By Andrea Shalal-Esa
SALISBURY, Maryland (Reuters) - Building a house in a week is always a challenge for the 60 crew members who work on the ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," but this week they faced a double whammy: first an earthquake, then a 600-mile wide hurricane named Irene.
The hit television program is building a soup kitchen and home in the Rehobeth Beach area of Delaware for Dale Dunning and her husband, Ken, who have been providing food for hundreds of needy residents for a dozen years.
Work at the site began on Monday, then the mid-Atlantic region was hit by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday. It continued through Friday, when the show's executive producer George Verschoor; the local builder, Schell Brothers; and government officials called off work until after Hurricane Irene passed.
The site is about 10 miles inland, and not in a mandatory evacuation zone, but Verschoor said they decided to stop work to ensure the safety of the crew and thousands of volunteers -- many of whom clamored to stay despite the monster storm.
Crew members are riding out the storm at three hotels in Maryland and Delaware, while their caterer, operating from a mobile food truck, is taking care of the crew's food needs.
"We've had blizzards and pretty extreme weather, but this is the first time we've had to shut down because of a hurricane," Verschoor told Reuters. "The volunteers were so disappointed we told them that we have to leave."
The crew had hoped to present the Dunning family with the completed project on Monday, but has delayed the "reveal" by the show's host Ty Pennington until Tuesday, Verschoor said.
The TV show is paying for Dunning -- known as the "Delaware Soup Lady" -- and her family to have a dream vacation at a secret location while the new facility is built.
"She does such incredible work," Verschoor said. "It's been very moving to hear all the stories from the volunteers and their connection with the family.
Dunning told a local newspaper this week she was feeling "overjoyed, very excited, very gracious and very humbled."
Verschoor hoped to get the team back to work on the six-acre site -- to be known as the Jusst Soup Ranch -- on Sunday, just hours after the storm hits the area. He said there were about 40 to 60 hours of work still left to do there.
Organizers cite a tremendous outpouring of support from the community for the $1 million-plus project, which is funded entirely by donation. Thousands have also helped with carpentry, painting, serving food and other tasks at the site.
Of $260,000 raised in cash, about $100,000 will go toward building costs, but $160,000 will add to an endowment set up by builder Chris Schell to pay for the facility's upkeep.
"It's an old-fashioned barn-raising," Verschoor said. "With many hands you can accomplish the impossible."
The show will air around Thanksgiving, Verschoor said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa)