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She's been to disaster zones all over the U.S. Now, this Red Cross Virginia volunteer is headed to Maui

Posted at 12:21 PM, Aug 15, 2023

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Debbie Watson hugged her granddaughter goodbye outside of the Richmond International Airport (RIC) before she was greeted with news cameras.

The American Red Cross volunteer is, once again, departing Metro Richmond for a disaster zone.

“It's kind of a mixed emotion,” Watson said. “I don't want to be needed. But I have also been trained well, and feel very confident that I can be there and be able to help people.”

Since 2016, the Red Cross’s Virginia Region has sent Watson all over the United States to respond to disasters, including Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and Hurricane Ian in 2022.

She departed RIC on Tuesday morning to Atlanta where she will connect to Los Angeles.

Watson plans to land in Hawaii at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and hopes to get straight to work.

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CBS News reported the confirmed death toll in the wildfires that swept through Maui last week rose to 99 as more than 1,000 people remained unaccounted for, local officials said.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green noted earlier that the death toll is expected to rise, as search crews could recover "10 to 20 people" a day going forward.

Watson will be assigned to staff relations. In addition to helping care for families, she will also be focusing on the other Red Cross volunteers.

There she will help counsel and encourage those volunteers who are thousands of miles away from home.

“The Red Cross has trained mental health workers that work with the clients. Part of my job is I go out to the different areas shelters and I talk to the workers,” she explained. “It's a group effort, your shelter workers are working directly with mental health.”

These volunteers are speaking to families who just watched their homes go up in flames.

Watson will be in Hawaii for at least three weeks and plans to stay longer if her help is needed. She is the eighth Red Cross volunteer from Virginia to fly to Hawaii.

Jonathan McNamara with the Red Cross expects many more volunteers to pack up their bags and fly into the disaster zone soon.

Watson encourages those who can’t physically make it to the islands to donate financially to the American Red Cross.

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