Utah Red Cross volunteers from across the state are headed to coastal regions to help prepare for possible disaster relief following Hurricane Gustav's expected landfall early next week. The storm was reported to be strengthening Saturday as it continued its march toward the Gulf Coast.

Susan Thomas, Utah Red Cross communication director, said 16 volunteers already were at or on their way to relief centers in Texas and Louisiana. Three emergency vehicles also were provided by Utah chapters.

Thomas said the preparation efforts under way are more extensive than previous call-ups she's participated in.

"This call for disaster-trained volunteers is much bigger than usual," she said. "The Red Cross is positioning 3,500 volunteers in key states just outside the area expected to be affected by Gustav. ... We're preparing for the worst but hoping for the best."

Thomas said volunteers from Utah would be aiding in the operation of disaster shelters. More help may be needed, she said.

"We may be continuing to recruit and deploy trained volunteers as conditions change," Thomas said.

For more information about the Utah Red Cross relief efforts, visit www.utahredcross.org.