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Irma victims' need for relief is only beginning

Key Points
  • More than 5 million customers are without power in Florida and 200,000 remain in shelters.
  • The Caribbean island of Barbuda reports 95 percent of its buildings were flattened by Irma.

While Irma has subsided to a post-tropical storm, the path of destruction left behind means victims' need for assistance is only beginning.

The massive storm's raging winds and tidal surge demolished homes and buildings in many parts of Florida. More than 5 million are without power in that state, and federal officials say weeks could pass before it gets restored in some areas. More than 200,000 people remain in shelters.

Major damage also has been reported among the Caribbean islands that were in Irma's path, including Barbuda where 95 percent of buildings are destroyed.

Hurricane Irma's path of destruction across Florida

Between charities and crowdfunding sites, there's no shortage of ways to donate money to help people whose lives have been turned upside down, whether on U.S. soil or elsewhere.

If you already have a favorite charity, find out if it's providing the specific aid you want to support (i.e., emergency shelters, post-trauma counselling, health care, etc.). Remember that if you see a solicitation for donations on social media, don't commit your money until you make sure the group seeking your support is legit. You can do that at sites like CharityNavigator, CharityWatch or Guidestar.

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends avoiding charities that seem to have sprung up overnight. Some are scams. And even if they are not, their quick formation could mean they really don't have the infrastructure in place to be effective.

Additionally, the FTC urges giving directly to the nonprofit instead of through a paid fundraiser. Professional fundraisers get a percentage — sometimes more than 50 percent — of your donation.

Olga Teakell, on right, and her family clean her mobile home after it was damaged by Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida, September 11, 2017.
Stephen Yang | Reuters

Alternatively, CharityNavigator has released a list of its highly rated organizations that are providing relief to Irma victims and will continue updating it.

Also remember that donations to qualified nonprofit groups generally are tax-deductible if you itemize your return instead of taking the standard deduction, so keep your receipts.

Here is a sampling of charities dedicating resources to Irma victims (many of which also continue to assist people in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey):

1. The American Red Cross already has volunteers assisting in the Caribbean islands and Florida with more on the way. You can visit the organization's website or call 1-800-RED CROSS to make a donation. Alternatively, you can text "IRMA" to 90999 to donate $10.

2. Catholic Relief Services, which will use donations to help provide shelter, water and critical supplies like hygiene kits to storm victims in the Caribbean, is taking donations though its website. Or, you can call 877-435-7277.

3. Save The Children, which has assisted in the Caribbean and is deploying teams and supplies to Florida geared toward children and families worst affected by the storm, is accepting donations via its website. Or, you can text "IRMA" to 20222 to make a $10 donation.

4. Direct Relief, an organization that is providing emergency medical supplies and resources to communities affected by Irma, is accepting donations on its website or by phone (1-805-964-4767).

5. Habitat for Humanity International will help with post-disaster recovery efforts, including the repair of damaged homes construction of new affordable houses. The group also is helping families affected by Harvey. Donations can be made on its website or by calling 1-800-HABITAT.

6. World Hope International is accepting donations on its website. The money will be used to purchase emergency supplies and equipment for the storm recovery.

7. GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding site for charitable giving, has started a relief fund dedicated to Irma victims. You can donate through its website or text IRMA to 80100 to donate $10.

8. GoFundMe, another crowdfunding site, has a dedicated area on its website for Irma-related fundraising campaigns. You can choose from one of hundreds of individual campaigns on the webpage or donate to the Direct Impact Fund, whose donations get distributed among verified campaigns to help victims of Irma. GoFundMe donations are guaranteed to end up in the right place or donors get their money back.