Retired Pittsfield firefighter, other locals poised to help victims of Hurricane Florence

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DURHAM, N.C. — Hurricane Florence was still several hundred miles from the North Carolina coast on Wednesday when retired Pittsfield Fire Lt. Daniel Amuso arrived in Durham.

His assignment, ahead of the storm, is to pack rental trucks with cots, blankets and "comfort kits" and take them to four megashelters, each of them prepared to take in 5,000 hurricane victims.

"It's exciting," he told The Eagle via phone early Thursday. " It's great feeling when you come back with your truck empty."

The city of Durham is not in the direct path of the storm, which is expected to make landfall Friday morning before lingering in the Southeast for days. As of Thursday morning, the eye of the hurricane was about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C.

Amuso, 63, is one of three American Red Cross volunteers from Berkshire County who have been deployed to North Carolina and Virginia ahead of the catastrophic and life-threatening storm.

Mark Guilds, of Cheshire, will shelter in place Durham with the rest of the North Carolina volunteers before heading 150 miles southeast toward Wilmington for emergency response and cleanup work. And Cheryl Murray, of Pittsfield, is working on food preparation in Virginia.

"Everybody is watching the Weather Channel. For the next two days we're basically going to hunker down rather than driving into the storm," Amuso said. "At some point I'll be housed somewhere closer to Wilmington."

Wilmington, a coastal city of about 117,525 residents, hosts several popular ocean beaches, a University of North Carolina campus, and a bustling downtown along the Cape Fear River. As of Thursday morning, Hurricane Florence was expected to bring wind gusts greater than 110 mph, record-breaking rainfall, and potentially deadly flooding to the city.

Once Amuso arrives in Wilmington, which is being referred to as "district one," he will be distributing items like rakes and powerbars to residents trying to make reparations to their homes.

"Sometimes it's ripping out wet Sheetrock and drywall," he said.

Amuso has been deployed to seven natural disasters in the two years since he began volunteering with the Red Cross.

After retiring from the Pittsfield Fire Department, Amuso wanted to do something to keep busy and thought of the Red Cross because of the work their volunteers have done for victims of fires in Pittsfield.

He's responded to floods in Louisiana and Louisville, wildfires in California, and Hurricane Harvey.

"Those were the biggies," Amuso said. "This one is going to turn out to be the real biggy. This is going to be really nasty."

Some neighborhoods in Wilmington and other coastal cities and towns were issued mandatory evacuations.

Others left at the urge of city and state officials, who told residents they should not try to ride the storm out in their homes.

At a news conference Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had a stern warning for coastal residents who have stayed in their homes during previous hurricanes including Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Matthew in 2016: This one is different.

Cooper told residents not to "bet your life on riding out a monster."

By the time Cooper made that statement, Berkshire native Tim Hill had already fled north — 600 miles — from his home in the Outer Banks.

Hill arrived with his 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, and their two dogs on Monday at his parents' home in Lee, where they will hunker down "until further notice." Hill's oldest daughter, Maggie, a freshman at East Carolina University, will remain in the area even though the campus has been evacuated.

Hill lives in Kill Devil Hills, which forecasters expect to miss the brunt of the storm, but he has no regrets about evacuating.

"You still get the outer winds, and we'll likely have power outages for days and I rely on the Internet for my job," he told The Eagle via phone.

With Sarah's school closed for the week, Hill says coming home was also an opportunity for his daughter to have an unplanned vacation.

Mary Nathan, disaster program manager for the Western Massachusetts branch of the American Red Cross, said the team deployed ahead of the storm are mostly working logistics, like preparing shelters, delivering supplies, and organizing emergency response efforts.

After the storm passes, the organization will move more volunteers to the area, she said.

Staff writer Dick Lindsay contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.

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