Local volunteers play key role in national Red Cross disaster responses

Written by: Andy Thompson l News-Record Editor

Harvey Lorenz (right), Neenah, and Dennis Caillouet, North Carolina, learn how to use a handheld device for damage assessment in the area that was affected by Hurricane Isaac in Port Allen, La. Lorenz has been deployed to 10 Red Cross disaster relief missions. / Barbara Behling/submitted

When the American Red Cross put out a call for assistance in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in late August, Neenah’s Harvey Lorenz was quick to respond.

The 72-year-old Lorenz, a veteran Red Cross volunteer whose first deployment was in response to Hurricane Katrina, quickly packed a suitcase, boarded a flight and headed for the Gulf Coast.

“You get the word and within 24 hours you’re on the ground,” said Lorenz, a retired banker who has been on 10 Red Cross disaster relief missions.

Lorenz spent 16 days assisting hurricane victims in Louisiana. He flew into Houson on Aug. 30 and stayed in a shelter in Orange, Tex., because power was out at the Baton Rouge, La., airport. The next day, he traveled to Baton Rouge and stayed in a shelter for several days while assisting hurricane victims, most of whom were trying to cope with the flooding caused by massive rains.

The hurricane made landfall on Aug. 28 and caused significant flooding in coastal areas of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Lorenz was among 15 Red Cross disaster workers from northeast Wisconsin who were sent to the Gulf Coast to provide aid for victims of Hurricane Isaac. Barbara Pilon of Neenah served on a team coordinating the distribution of clean-up gear.

A considerable amount of Lorenz’ time was spent in Laplace, La., located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Not only did he assist with compiling hurricane-related financial estimates during his stretch in Louisiana, he assisted in damage assessment work and got involved in teaching other volunteers how to respond to the needs of storm victims.

When he was in Laplace, which had six to nine feet of water running through it because of the slow-moving storm, President Obama visited the community.

The work is often painstaking and the deployments are for indefinite periods of time, but Lorenz gets a great deal of satisfaction from assisting victims of disasters.

“It’s part of the recovery process,” he said. “I enjoy helping others. I’m not big on recognition, but what you do is really neat and a lot of people appreciate it. Down there (in the Gulf Coast), people have been through this so often. They are very resourceful.”

Barbara Behling, communications officer for the American Red Cross in Northeast Wisconsin, has high praise for Lorenz’ work on behalf of the Red Cross.

“Harvey tells it like it is,” said Behling, who spent two weeks in Louisiana assisting with the disaster response effort. “Harvey comes with a great sense of maturity. He’s not going to be shifted off course. He knows the mission and he knows what it takes to get it done.”

Behling said Lorenz does an outstanding job of keeping accurate financial records and data.

“He’s a finance guy by trade, but he understands the human side,” she said. “He has such a huge heart and he can really relate to people who have been affected (by disasters).”

Behling served as a public affairs chief during her deployment and focused on lining up the services that were vitally important to hurricane victims. She was based in Port Allen, which is close to Baton Rouge, but also spent some time in Madisonville, which was pounded by 16½ inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

She said houses were “wiped-off” their foundations by the torrential rains and water was “up to their eyeballs” for some residents.

“It was horrible,” Behling said.

Behling was impressed with the response to the hurricane by local, regional and national volunteers.

“You always see the best of humanity after a disaster,” she said.

— Andy Thompson: 920-729-6622, ext. 29, or athompson@newsrecord .net

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