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He served 3.6 million free meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Now he's feeding people hit by Florence

When disaster strikes, the Red Cross and the National Guard are always there to help. And these days, so is...

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 10:38 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 10:38 AM

When disaster strikes, the Red Cross and the National Guard are always there to help. And these days, so is José Andrés.

The renowned chef, equipped with a team of cooks and volunteers and a ton of food, is feeding people in the Carolinas who were hit by Hurricane Florence.

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Hurricane Maria

Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen team arrived in North Carolina a week ago -- days before the storm arrived -- and opened kitchens in Raleigh and Wilmington, two of the hardest-hit areas of the state. They have three others ready to go at any time should the need arise.

Since the storm made landfall in the Carolinas on September 13, his team has made more than 60,000 meals. They planned to deliver another 80,000 meals on Monday.

"We have delivered hot meals to 25 shelters so far across a number of counties, plus emergency operations centers, police departments, fire stations, National Guard, search and rescue teams, individual families and neighborhoods who don't have access to food," World Central Kitchen Executive Director Nate Mook told CNN.

The WCK has been the only major food-relief operation in those cities over the last six days and are expected to feed up to 13,000 people in the city of Wilmington alone. Although floodwaters make their work challenging, Andrés says his team will still deliver the food.

"Even though there is still a lot of flooding, I believe yesterday was more dangerous than today. I'm just glad the storm is finally over and people can start getting their lives back to normal," he told CNN.

A watery rescue

Andrés is not kidding about the last few days being dangerous. On Saturday his team was trying to deliver meals with the help of a military-like truck when the vehicle slid into a watery ditch.

"I'm a Navy boy myself, and I've never been in a bigger truck in my life. We were with the local sheriff who knows the roads well, and believe it or not, our truck got stuck and tilted, even with those big tires," Andrés told CNN. As a young man he served in the Navy in his native Spain.

"If this happened to us in a big truck, can you imagine how dangerous it is to all the people trying to drive in these waters with their normal vehicles?" he added. "I just can't imagine that."

His team lost over 300 meals that day, but the Cajun Navy rushed in to rescue the group -- despite a tornado warning.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has aided Andrés' efforts by enlisting help from SWAT teams and the US Army.

"We are always happy when we have military structure command. Thanks to them we have been able to deliver meals to more than five counties," Andrés said. "The governor helped us connect with the officials, and the officials are helping us connect to the people in need."

Serving meals in disaster areas everywhere

Andrés' empire includes more than two dozen restaurants in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other cities.

The Florence effort is not World Central Kitchen's first disaster-relief operation, nor will it be the last.

The team served more than 3.6 million meals in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of 2017's Hurricane Maria and stayed on the island through an entire year to make sure people weren't left hungry.

In June, Andrés journeyed to Guatemala to help feed victims of the volcanic eruption there. In July he teamed up with fellow celebrity chef Guy Fieri to feed first responders to the wildfires in California.

"We are here for America, guys. If anyone is hungry, we are here to feed them," Andrés says in a video he shared on Twitter.

The humanitarian chef said he is heartened to see robust relief efforts in North Carolina and wishes he would have seen a similar response from officials in Puerto Rico after Maria.

"The response I've seen here is definitely day and night in comparison to Maria. Anyone can say whatever they want about the efforts after Maria, but in my personal assessment, I am impressed with the response by the government here in North Carolina," he said.

"This kind of response should happen no matter what and no matter where disaster hits," he added. "Let's not wait for election day to find officials who will respond like this. We all need this type of immediate response."

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