Fond du Lac flooding victims reflect on a memorable Red Cross experience

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

As Red Cross staff and volunteers, we often report on how we help those in need at the time disaster strikes. There is a lot of outside attention “in the moment” of a disaster, even though the work continues for days and weeks after. To provide a more in-depth look at what relief and recovery means to those we’ve served, we had a conversation recently with one Wisconsin family impacted by sudden ice jam flooding in mid-March.

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Lisa Frank, right, and her daughter Amanda pose with a Donald Driver bobblehead, among the handful of keepsakes they were able to grab when evacuating their flooded apartment complex. (Photo: Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross)

Lisa Frank and her adult daughter Amanda were in the bullseye of the spring flooding in Fond du Lac. With their apartment building in danger of rapidly rising water, they reacted to the call of local firefighters to evacuate immediately. Given 10 minutes to grab whatever belongings they most needed, Lisa scrambled around her third floor apartment while Amanda attended to her apartment one floor below.

Within the time allotted they each emerged with a few necessities, including critical medications, a change of clothing, and some items of sentimental value. They made the difficult decision to leave their cats behind, but only after the firefighters assisting with the evacuation made a solemn promise that the cats would remain safe.

Once helped across the flooding parking lot and onto the buses waiting for them, Lisa was able to finally breathe. As her bus pulled out she had a view of the nearby football field and realized it had become a “giant swimming pool.”

“I had never seen anything like this,” she recounted. “ I really thought the world was ending.”

The buses took Lisa, Amanda and others from their apartment building to the nearby community church where Red Cross volunteers had set up shelter. There, the Franks were offered cots for sleeping, snacks, and meals throughout their stay – including a delicious homemade breakfast cooked the next morning by congregants of the church.

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Ice jams were the main culprit in March 2019 flooding that hit homes and families in towns including Waubeka, above, as well as Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Arcadia. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa admits that she didn’t expect to get much sleep given the overwhelming morning as well as medical conditions that caused her discomfort. But by evening, she “curled up on the cot and slept like a million bucks.”

In describing their experience while at the shelter, Lisa remarked that from the moment they arrived, “everything was handled perfectly; so perfectly, it felt like it was a drill.” She believes the quality of support and compassion extended by everyone she met is what helped she and Amanda get through the experience.


The Red Cross works with families in the days and weeks after a disaster to make sure they’ve connected with any resources available to them during the intensive recovery process. If you’d like to get involved in the response or recovery efforts with your neighbors in need, please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer. Take that first step by clicking here.


 

Of biggest concern to Lisa were the medications she needed to control her chronic conditions. She suffers from congestive heart failure, as well as painful rheumatoid arthritis requiring the aid of a walker. While she grabbed her medications from her apartment before evacuating, she had additional prescriptions that were due for a refill. She explained this to the Red Cross volunteers who greeted her upon arrival at the shelter and immediately set about assessing her needs.

“One of the volunteers went out to the pharmacy and picked up a prescription I needed that very day; without it I wouldn’t have been able to function,” said Lisa. “Yet next thing I knew she showed up and handed me the bag with my medication. I don’t know who she is, but I’m still so grateful for what she did.”

Zyler and Michelle GB shelter Saturday D&M Productions

Volunteer Dennis Hildebrand, right, chats with Michele Whittington and her son, Zyler, during their stay at a shelter in Green Bay during March floods. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa shared that her daughter, Amanda, is autistic and suffers from epilepsy and ADHD, which can make traumatic experiences especially challenging. Yet the kindness with which she was treated while in shelter again had a profound effect on Lisa. Thanks to the volunteers’ way of talking to and engaging with Amanda, Lisa felt a sense of pride in how well Amanda acclimated to the situation.

“The amount of kindness the Red Cross showed us is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Lisa. “It was my first time working with the Red Cross, and everyone was simply incredible.”

In total during March flooding, 106 Red Cross volunteers worked with partners to open four shelters, one reception center and one multi-agency resource center; provided comfort and respite for more than 140 people; served more than 1,200 meals and distributed approximately 720 clean-up kits.

The day after the flooding in Fond du Lac, the Franks were cleared to return to their apartments – which included their grateful cats. Their apartments were spared any water damage, although their car, which was parked outside, was deemed a total loss due to water damage. Lisa is currently working to save up enough money to purchase a replacement car. Aside from that inconvenience, life has essentially returned to normal for the Frank family.

When asked to sum up her flooding experience, Lisa says that without the help and support of the Red Cross, she and her daughter could never have handled it as well as they did. She pointed out, with a laugh, that between the bus ride to and from the shelter, the lodging, the meals, and the opportunity to meet others, the experience felt almost like a “vacation” – although a “weird, surreal and unplanned vacation!”

Amanda has a slightly different take on the experience: “It was like a vacation you did not want to take!” Yet both mother and daughter are grateful for all the ways in which the Red Cross helped them navigate a difficult situation.

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