A team of Amazon employees packed 10,000 items at the Ruskin fulfillment center on Wednesday about two hours north from Hurricane Ian’s impact further south.
A forklift then picked up a stack of yellow plastic bins filled with fruit snacks, graham crackers, peanuts and cheese balls into a trailer that would later head to Fort Myers, about two hours away. The e-commerce company had donated more than 1.5 million items for victims of the Category 4 storm that hit Florida in early October to charities like the Red Cross and South Florida disaster nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission, said Amazon’s head of disaster relief Abe Diaz.
Amazon has a disaster relief hub in Atlanta and the company uses its extensive network of warehouses and delivery stations across the nation to get relief supplies to those in need. Diaz said Amazon is positioned in strategic locations across Florida, and relied on those warehouses outside of the path of Ian to get donations out within 24 hours after the storm passed.
Amazon uses artificial intelligence collected from past storms like Hurricane Dorian to determine what communities need and then goes into their stock to get it, Diaz said. It’s as if it were any other package.
“A lot of the times we hear from nonprofits that every disaster is different,” Diaz said, who’s based out of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. “But in reality what we’ve noticed is that looking at the items that have been requested over the past five years, most are very similar.”
The Ruskin warehouse is one of Amazon’s largest in the Tampa Bay region and the closest to Fort Myers, which the company leveraged to ship items into the impact zone. The warehouse was among the 80 Amazon facilities that closed, including Whole Foods stores, during the storm. The Ruskin center shut down for four days and had a build up of orders waiting to be sent out, said the site’s general manager Kyle Streb.
On Wednesday, the Ruskin site had three trailers full of items ready to send south — the second relief shipment it sent out since the storm.
“If there’s any more relief efforts needed and there’s more items needed, we’re gonna see where we can support,” said Ruskin’s operation manager Sean Comerford. “We’re pretty quick with responding.”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.