Finding closure through deployment for Hurricane Fiona

by Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

Dianna Trush, center, pauses for a selfie before another day of bringing resources directly to people in need across the main island of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona.

Dianna Trush, a retired nurse living in Wisconsin, traveled to Puerto Rico as an American Red Cross volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona this past September. Not only did her deployment represent a major opportunity as a new volunteer – it happened to be in the land she calls home.

An early experience with disaster – and relief
Dianna is one of seven children born to her parents, both Puerto Rican. While New York is technically her birthplace, at age 10 she moved to Puerto Rico with her mother and siblings and was raised there until the age of 26. As a young adult she studied nursing, and her supervisor in the I.C.U. encouraged her to go back to the United States for more sophisticated medical training. “I took his advice but I never came back,” she said.

She recalls strong memories of her childhood growing up in Brooklyn. One memory in particular proved to be her first experience with the Red Cross.

“I remember as a family we saw many fires in our neighborhood,” she said. “Then one day we were coming home from school and realized that the building we saw on fire was our building.”

Dianna remembers the Red Cross coming to their rescue, helping them to find a hotel and even providing some funding that allowed them to travel back home to Puerto Rico.

“In the back of my mind I knew then that one day I wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross,” she said.

Dianna removes a dated smoke alarm to be replaced with a new, free alarm from the Red Cross, with fellow volunteer Mariella, in May 2022 at a home in Milwaukee.

Accomplished nurse turned ‘restless’ volunteer
Dianna recently retired after 40 years of nursing that included more than 20 years as a nurse in the Veterans Administration, both in Chicago and Milwaukee. After retiring she spent time traveling while also looking into volunteer opportunities to use her nursing skills.

“I’m a restless soul – I can’t stay still,” she explained.

In September 2021 she applied to join the Red Cross as a disaster health services volunteer. It did not take long before her services were needed. There were a number of fires in the Milwaukee area within months of her start date, and she was able to serve those displaced by the fires.

Our local Disaster Action Teams need people like you to help your neighbors after a disaster. Find out more and sign up at

She learned quickly that as a native Spanish speaker her bilingual skills were in great need for those affected by disasters from the large Hispanic community in Milwaukee. She even ended up support bilingual communications and marketing in Milwaukee as part of the national “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire preparedness campaign.

Meanwhile, Dianna continued to think about opportunities to deploy as a Red Cross volunteer to help with natural disasters. As a nurse in the V.A. system she had traveled to New Orleans to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina and was eager to again serve in that capacity.

Heaviness back home
It did not take very long for Dianna’s dream to become reality. She reached out when the Red Cross posted a need for volunteers to deploy for Hurricane Fiona, and within two days she was on her way to Puerto Rico.

Dianna’s desire to travel to Puerto Rico in late September, just days after Fiona made landfall, carried many personal threads. For one, her brother and his family live there, and the trauma they endured with Hurricane Maria five years earlier was something Dianna would never forget.

In addition, Dianna herself was living through a traumatic period when Fiona struck, and she was seeking some closure. Six weeks earlier, in early August, Dianna’s father had passed away. While he was living in New York at the time, his burial took place in Puerto Rico, and so Dianna and much of her extended family went there to say goodbye. In a horrifying twist of events, four of her family members were killed in an auto accident while in Puerto Rico for the burial. As Dianna painfully summarizes, she lost five beloved family members in the span of only two weeks.

A few weeks later, Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing death and destruction. Dianna knew she wanted, and needed, to go.

“Between my grief and loss I needed to find a way to normalize, which I knew I could do by helping others,” she said. “I had to find some closure, and this was the best thing I could do for myself.”

‘Comfort’, familiarity and closure
Upon arriving in San Juan – the very first day the airport was re-opened – she drove to the Red Cross headquarters and immediately got to work serving as a translator. Dianna also helped deliver food to hurricane victims in shelters and solar batteries to those who needed light in their homes or a charge for their cell phones.

Wreckage from outside of just one home that Dianna saw on her deployment back to the place she calls home.

“It was very humbling to be there and simply listen to those who needed comfort,” recalled Dianna. Along the way she met many other volunteers, all with equally big hearts. She found it uplifting to work with people from all different places and backgrounds striving to help humanity.

Dianna’s bilingual skills were not the only skills that proved to be valuable. Her team traveled by minivan, filled with food, water and cleaning supplies, and she was often counted on as navigator in a confusing, storm-torn landscape. Because she had learned to drive in Puerto Rico decades before, she knew where and how to drive the treacherous and flooded roads.

Yet everywhere she went during her 10 days of service Dianna was met with gratitude. For example, one day while waiting on a long line to fill the emergency van with gasoline, others around them expressed their sincere appreciation of the work they did as Red Cross volunteers.

She found it humbling, especially in light of everyone’s effort to serve the disaster victims. Even after returning home, Dianna found that “the memories and experiences are still alive in me.”

It’s not hard to imagine Dianna requesting another volunteer deployment again in the near future.

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