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Community Emergency Center For Hurricane Relief Opens In North Miami-Dade

Kate Stein
Valencia Gunder, a Miami-Dade-based community organizer, gives a tour of the warehouse near Opa-Locka that will be used as a "community emergency operations center" following a hurricane or other disaster.

A center to help people in low-income neighborhoods prepare for and recover from hurricanes launched in north Miami-Dade on Saturday. 

Organizers say the "community emergency operations center" builds off of Hurricane Irma last year, when community groups from across Florida mobilized to collect donations, host cookouts and provide legal support for more than 23,000 people.

Read more: Post-Irma, Community Groups Prepare To Step In Where The Official Hurricane Response Fell Short

"I want people to starting making this a part of their daily conversations," said Valencia Gunder, founder of the non-profit Make the Homeless Smile and a lead organizer of the emergency operations centers. "If you stay prepared, then you don’t have to get prepared."

The center, in a warehouse at 670 Northwest 113th Street near Barry University, is the largest of eight community emergency operations hubs in Miami-Dade. After a storm, it will provide water, nonperishable food, legal aid, generators, health care and ice to neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Broward.

It's currently funded by donations to the Miami Foundation's Hurricane Relief Fund. But Miami-Dade resilience officer Jim Murley told WLRN Saturday that he would like to see county commissioners vote to provide funding for the community emergency operations network.

"They may decide to act on it now that it’s up and running," he said.

Organizers say any and all funding is welcome. Hattie Willis, executive director of the non-profit Communities United, which works with senior citizens, said the centers are not intended to replace government help after a hurricane. Rather, she said, they're an additional resource at a time when local, state and federal resources are stretched thin.

Hattie Willis, executive director of a community organization for seniors, says the emergency operations center is helping low-income Miamians prepare for the next Hurricane Katrina.

"What we’re preparing for is our Katrina," she said. "Who’s going to save you is you. People helping people, neighbors helping neighbors."

Read more: From Traffic To Sea-Level Rise, South Florida Has Many 'Resilience' Issues. Here's What That Means

Organizers are looking for more volunteers and donations to stock up ahead of potential storms this season.

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