Winter storms differ; yet, how the American Red Cross responds is the same by providing a safe place to stay, food to eat and a shoulder-to-lean. Five Wisconsinites flew south to support 31 shelters opened during the storm. We are honored Kathy Schuh-Ries, a mental health professional, shared her Tennessee Ice Storm deployment experience.
By: Kathy Schuh-Ries, American Red Cross Disaster Responder
On February 25th, I was deployed to Cookeville, Tennessee to assist with the winter ice storms. I arrived in Nashville, and then rode to Cookeville with another disaster volunteer. It was too late to go to headquarters so we checked into our hotel. The next morning we arrived at headquarters to learn that a series of FIVE winter storms have impacted the state of TN in the last two weeks.
The Cumberland Plateau are was hit especially hard with an inch of ice accumulation in some areas leading to downed trees, power lines/poles, etc. causing 100% electrical grid failures in rural counties.
Several shelters were opened in the Cumberland Plateau due to prolonged power outages. More than 30 fatalities had been reported in TN alone due to the winter weather. When I arrived, several thousand customers still were without power in Putnam, Overton, and Cumberland counties.
Most people seeking shelter have had functional needs. As a disaster mental health worker, I assisted in visiting the shelters and working as a liaison with other Red Cross workers. We worked with shelter staff, nurses, and caseworkers to meet the needs of the clients in the shelters and assist them in returning to their homes once the power was restored.
As mentioned earlier, many of the needs were functional. Needs varied from person to person. Some needed assistance in getting medication, others needed assistance from health care assistants, some just needed someone to listen, and share a cup of coffee.
Fallen trees, debris, lack of fuel were common needs.
Mid week, the Noro virus struck several shelters. Effected parties were isolated and the nurses assisted in caring for the sick. Shelters were sanitized and extensive hand washing was encouraged to stem the virus. Parts of our mission included caring for volunteers as well and assist in covering their shelter shifts.
On Sunday, I participated in an Integrated Care Team. The team is comprised of a nurse, a case worker and a mental health worker. We visited the home of a sibling who lost a brother to hypothermia. After meeting with the family, it was determined that assistance was needed for his burial. The Red Cross assisted since his death was directly related to the storm.
As power was restored, shelters were closed and volunteers were sent home.
- I am always moved by the resilience of people impacted by these forces of nature.
- My life is put back in perspective after deployment.
- I love the interesting people I meet along the way. The former cook on Air force 1, the retired FBI agent, the 80 year old mother who could run circles around most of us.
- While not being part of an organized religion, I find these experiences to be spiritual in their own right.