Wisconsin’s Longest Tornado Leaves a Path of Disaster

Early evening on time on May 16, 2017, a deadly tornado cycle took aim on Barron and Rusk counties in northern Wisconsin. The EF-3 twister with winds of at least 140 miles per hour ran for 83 miles which makes it Wisconsin’s longest tornado since modern documentation began in 1950. The storm damaged 231 homes and four commercial buildings.

The storms epicenter was the Prairie Lakes Estates mobile home in Chetek and the Jennie-O turkey farm were tossed, turned, stripped and shattered to pieces. Leaving 40 homes destroyed, one person dead and 35 injured. Across county lines, in Rusk County, Conrath was hit the second hardest from the same tornado.

The American Red Cross quickly set up two reception centers at Mosaic Telecom in Cameron, the Ladysmith Sheriff’s Department first and then the Holy Trinity Church in downtown Conrath. Red Cross Disaster Responders from all over Wisconsin rushed in to support the shelter conduct damage assessment, work one-on-one with clients including by providing financial support, replacing medications and equipment to providing an emotional support to those left temporarily homeless.

For the Rutledge family, the trauma of the storm was multi-faceted. The family huddled in their mobile home before it broke apart and thrown across the earth. One member of the family was transported to Regis Hospital with life-threatening injuries. While looking at the remains of their home, they heard noises. Garnering the attention of first responders, they lifted twisted metal, shattered wood and through insulation carefully, quickly – yet carefully – through the remains. When their bunny “Racer” was in the arms of the family, they knew not all was lost.

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By Barbara Behling, American Red Cross

See American Red Cross Wisconsin Chapters Flickr site for more photos.

Our largest Multi-agency Resource Center, often called a “one-stop shop” for residents, was spearheaded by the Red Cross. For two days, Mosaic Telecom hosted 26 agencies.  These agencies provided assistance ranging from; rent assistance, security deposits, furniture, household supplies, food, clothing and much more. Each attendee started with the Red Cross caseworkers to help people create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate assistance for their specific disaster-caused needs.

Non-profit, government and community organizations included:

  • American Red Cross
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  • Barron County DSI
  • Red Cedar Church
  • Rural Development – USDA
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Vincent de Paul
  • United Way 211
  • WestCap
  • WI Judicare
  • Workforce Resources
  • Public Health
  • Benjamin’s House – Emergency Shelter
  • Citizens Connected
  • Johnson Insurance
  • Mosaic Telecom
  • Ruby’s Closet
  • USDA Rural Development
  • Wisconsin Works
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Barron County Veterans Service

The Red Cross has also trucked in rakes, gloves, masks, googles, bug spray and plastic bags to help in the clean-up process.

For Polk County resident, Sue Ames-Lillie, this was the first MARC she has been to, even though she has responded to hundreds of residential fires. She recalls one mother and child in particular. “The mother was battling stage-4 cancer and yet she still had the strength to carry her son upon arrival. After striking a conversation, I learned he had lost his favorite toy.” Sue ushered them in for lunch, then offered clothing along with other items provided by multiple resources. “Permission was granted to take him to a special area where toys and stuffed animals were waiting for children. His frown turned to a smile and this is how I will forever remember this day” Sue shares with gleaming eyes.

Local and regional trained disaster responders were on-scene immediately and knowing an out pouring of community support would swell, the Red Cross activated 26 ‘event based volunteers’ who worked alongside 64 registered Red Cross workers (90 total) to provide:

  • 2, 117 meals & snacks served
  • 1,721 personal hygiene kits and cleanup items distributed
  • 213 individuals met with and assisted
  • 302 health services visits
  • 78 mental health services visits

 

Moving forward the Red Cross is a partner in the Barron County long-term recovery process to ensure community resiliency is achieved. Our community education team will also be available to area schools and groups to share emergency preparedness information such as The Pillowcase Project for grade school kids.

Overall, the Barron County Sherriff’s Department estimates about $10 million in damages. The Rusk County Sheriff said their area sustained heavy damage to public and private properties, including homes and rural farms.

Three generations of the Rutledge family, Mary, Deeann & Cynthia embrace Racer, the rabbit after he was rescued from the mobile home which collapsed upon him in the Chetek tornado.

Red Cross supporting families affected by Wisconsin corn mill explosion

Cambria, Wis., June 1, 2017 – Following a deadly corn mill explosion in Cambria, Wis., on June 1, the American Red Cross is providing the affected families with emotional support services.

“Trained mental health counselors are on-the-ground working directly with the people impacted by this tragic event,” said Barbara Behling, spokesperson for the American Red Cross Wisconsin Region.

When people experience a disaster or other stressful life event, they can have a variety of reactions, all of which can be common responses to difficult situations. These reactions can include:

  • Feeling physically and mentally drained
  • Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
  • Becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis
  • Arguing more with family and friends
  • Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. Try to accept whatever reactions you may have. Look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your disaster-related needs and those of your family.

The Red Cross advises parents to keep a close eye on the children. When disaster strikes, a child’s view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. Children of different ages react in different ways to trauma, but how parents and other adults react following any traumatic event can help children recover more quickly and more completely.

For additional information visit redcross.org.

Media Contact:

Barbara Behling, barbara.behling@redcross.org

American Red Cross

920-642-0404

Red Cross Responders Stepping Up After Manitowoc Fire

We can’t say THANK YOU enough to our dedicated volunteers!

Stories and photos by: Andrea Wandrey, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

“Look at that smile, isn’t that priceless”, says Taira Grubb, as she is watching one of her shelter residents unfold his new pair of pants. He is one of more than 80 elderly residents that lost everything in a Manitowoc apartment fire—from clothes to medication and furniture, photos and memories. American Red Cross responders from all over Wisconsin raised their hands quickly to help open up and run a shelter at the Wilson Junior High School, to provide basic needs like food, clothing and a place to sleep.

(l-r) Taira Grubb Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic

Taira Grubb has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for more than ten years. She is one of five disaster action team members in Washington County and traveled with fellow volunteers Bobbi Holiday and Jane Lazarevic to Manitowoc to help. Her favorite part of shelter-work is learning about the clients. “I really enjoy talking to them”, she says. Just like Taira, Jane appreciates the personal interactions: “I like making them laugh and helping them think positively”. Jane is a long-time Red Cross volunteer, and recalls that initially she was not sure how her professional background in technology could be helpful to the Red Cross. However, she quickly found out that there is always a way:

“Whatever you can do, you can give something”, says Jane.

In previous deployments she worked in many different positions, from setting up computers, to logistics, staffing and general shelter work. Likewise, her fellow Washington-County volunteer Bobbi has held different positions at the Red Cross. She was previously an office manager and is in disaster-work now, experienced in assisting clients in traumatic situations like the Manitowoc fire.

Terry Wesenberg, a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor and Red Cross Volunteer.

A variety of skills were needed at the Manitowoc shelter and highly-trained workers are indispensable. Terry Wesenberg joined the shelter as a licensed clinical social worker and licensed counselor. He is one of the Red Cross’s most experienced mental health professionals. For many years he was in the army, offering his help to soldiers. After his retirement from the Armed Forces he worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for six years in disaster work. Being a Red Cross Volunteer for more than 30-years, he has helped more people than he could count. “I headed out to help after six Hurricanes”, he recalls. He travelled to the Gulf Coast to assist after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, and was in New York for Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012. When asked about his most memorable experience in all these years, he recalls his conversation with a 90-year-old woman after Superstorm Sandy. “When storm hit, she carried six white banker-boxes from her basement into her living room, to protect them from the flood”, he recalled. The boxes contained pictures, stories, and poems from her deceased granddaughter. With the water forcing its way into the house, the boxes got wet and all memories destroyed. Yet the woman refused to throw them out. “This is all I have left” Terry recalls her saying.

His extensive experience helps Terry support the Manitowoc fire victims, who also lost all of their belongings in the fire. Although his work can be tough, Terry very much enjoys volunteering, specifically because of the fellow volunteers he meets. “If you go out you will meet the best people. You want to know them all”, he says.

 

“The Volunteer You Would Need” Red Cross Volunteers are There When Disaster Strikes.

Written By: Dawn Miller, American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region

Photos provided by: Megann Hooyman

When the volunteer from the American Red Cross arrived it was like seeing an old friend and that was just what Megann Hooyman and her family of Appleton needed. The moments leading up to it were a blur of smoke and sirens.

Megann’s family, including her husband, Andy, 4-year old daughter, Zoey and the two-year old twins, Rylee and Callie, had arrived home from a holiday event with Santa. It was a festive Saturday morning so it took Megann a few moments to realize something was wrong.

When she opened her door all she saw was black and smoke. The glass from the oven was shattered on the floor and smoke was everywhere. She bent down to Charlie, their basset hound, but he was already gone. In the living room the smoke was so thick she could not see her hand in front of her.

She ran out the front door and yelled for someone to call 9-1-1. Smoke billowed out behind her. When she opened the door it allowed oxygen in to ignite the flames again.

Andy grabbed the fire extinguisher nearby and used it to keep flames down until firefighters arrived. “It was lucky that we had the fire extinguisher and that Andy knew how to use it,” says Megann.

Within moments Megann heard the sirens and the fire department was there. The fire fighters not only got the fire under control but assisted the family’s other dog, Zebby, who suffered bad burns and smoke inhalation. The ambulance assisted Andy who also was treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire damage was extensive and their possessions were destroyed.

Megann says the American Red Cross volunteer appeared out of nowhere. It’s like seeing a familiar face when you see the American Red Cross logo and that red vest. “It was nice to have that one reliable thing you know you can count on for information and support.”

Megann says the volunteer being there made her feel less alone. “I would have felt lost because I wouldn’t have known what to expect.”

He offered honest advice, time to process next steps and he made sure they were ok. He made sure they had housing and asked if they needed community resources like the food or clothing pantry. He gave them a $625 debit card for necessities like shampoo, conditioner and diapers. “It goes pretty fast when you have little ones,” says Megann.

Megann says she is thankful for such a supportive community. In the weeks following the fire, they stayed with family and were offered much support from friends and community who rallied to help keep the holiday season merry.

“You donate, you give back but you never think you are going to be on the receiving end,” says Megann. “But you need these services.”

Megann recently became the newest member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team.

“I hope I volunteer but I hope I don’t because it’s not a good situation,” says Megann. That’s why she’s not only being trained in disaster response but also wants to assist in fire safety and prevention education.

Megann is joining the team of compassionate and caring volunteers in red vests so she can be a friend when someone needs it the most. “You see it in school and on t.v. but you never think it will happen to you,” says Megann. “I don’t know any way to thank those who helped us except to give back and volunteer.”

If you want to be like Megann, please check out the volunteer opportunities at redcross.org/WI/volunteer.  Join us as we #Help1Family!

4th Annual Disaster Training Conference

Last week, the Wisconsin Region conducted our 4th  annual Disaster Training Conference. Though the conference was held on the shores of Green Lake, attendees paid little attention to beautiful autumn scenery outside. The 183  attendees, Red Cross volunteers and staff from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, enjoyed four days of learning, sharing and networking.

The broad range of classes provided opportunities for brand new volunteers and seasoned veterans. The newest volunteer had been with the Red Cross for only two days and several in attendance had more than 20-years of service. Classes were offered to provide instruction on delivering the Red Cross mission, supervision & leadership along with diversity & inclusion. Workshops built upon classroom instruction and provided hands-on opportunities to set-up a shelter, conduct damage assessment and manage a disaster relief operation.

On Wednesday night, Red Cross volunteers partnered with the Berlin Fire Department to make homes in Berlin safer. They visited homes and provided smoke alarms testing, free smoke alarm installation, home evacuation planning and fire safety tips. 25 homes were visited and 69 smoke alarms were installed.  Community outreach like this is happening around the state and more than 10,000 smoke alarms will installed this year alone!

By all reports, the Disaster Training Conference was a wonderful success! It was wonderful to see so many Red Crossers come together to learn and celebrate together. Plans for next year’s conference are already underway. We hope to see you there!

 

Hurricane Matthew – WI Responds

Hurricane Matthew. Thousands of people in shelters. Thousands of relief workers responding. Too many lives lost. This disaster is a big one, for all of us, requiring many hands, heads, and hearts pulling together to help others in dire need. Shelter, food, and relief supplies are American Red Cross priorities.

Blood and platelet donations are needed from people in unaffected areas to make up for canceled drives. Check out the stories below. They’ll show you how the Red Cross is helping.

You Just Gotta Be Strong: a video from the American Red Cross features Terry, a shelter resident who was forced to evacuate his home in Tarboro, North Carolina, because of Hurricane Matthew

Haiti Needs Help from All of Usan opinion piece from American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern published in Huffington Post addresses rumors, issues, and concerns about disaster relief responses in Haiti. False information shared on the internet hurts people who need our help the most

Suffering Continues After Hurricane Matthew: a news release from the American Red Cross with details about how the Red Cross is responding to the disaster in the U.S. and in Haiti

From Wisconsin, there are more than 80 Red Cross relief workers deployed to help in the affected areas. More will likely be on their way in the days to come.

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Lori and Kevin Peterson and Gerry and Jim Gilmore drove their Emergency Response Vehicles from Wisconsin and are serving thousands of meals, water and distributing cleaning supplies to residents in the hardest hit areas.  

Please support this relief effort. Click here to donate money to Red Cross disaster relief. Click here to make a blood or platelet donation appointment.

Thank you!

How You Can Prepare & Prevent Home Fires

It’s National Fire Safety Week (October 9th-October 15th)!

Timing is precious when escaping home fires. You may have as little as 2 minutes to escape. Are you and your family prepared in case of a home fire or know how to prevent them?

An essential step is to install the right number of smoke alarms. Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year. You can request for a smoke alarm from the Red Cross at www.getasmokealarm.org. Be sure to know 2 ways to escape from every room of your home and know the family meeting spot outside of your home.

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Red Cross Volunteers, Cindy Warner, Tom Davis, Peggy Leapley RN with evacuee Martin Freerks

A family of 2 share their Red Cross story about the fire that occurred in their California home.

He worries. She reassures.

As they prepared to leave the American Red Cross shelter at the First Baptist Church in Lake Isabella (CA) when evacuation orders were lifted for the Alta Sierra area, Martin Freerks agreed to one more step.

Through a donation from the local Home Depot, the Kern County regional office of the American Red Cross supplied his mom, Marcela, with box fans and air purifiers to ease any respiratory issues upon returning to her hilltop home.  In addition, Red Cross shelter volunteers Tom Davis (WI) and Cindy Warner (PA) installed five smoke alarms on 8/27/16 replacing the old ones throughout the two-story house.

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Volunteers installing smoke alarms on the second floor.

During the visit with Martin in late August, area residents still had to show proof of residence, and fire engines were still posted around the property monitoring backfires nearby.

It was during his school summer break when Martin caught a glimpse of the glow from the Cedar Fire.  He and his mother started packing everything they could in his medium-sized car. “I started moving what was flammable away from the house like the chairs.”  He pointed at the “dozer” lines and the melted metal next to the Kern-River-Valley-bleached bones.  The house was spared as were trees, rosemary and lemongrass on the property.

During their stay at the Red Cross shelter in Lake Isabella, Martin and his mom found a place that was air-conditioned, where they could sleep, shower, have three meals, snacks, and access information via the Internet and wide-screen television.  The shelter team included a nurse who would monitor any health issues manifested by the evacuees.

Hopefully, as mother and son gather their belongings and get their lives back to normal, the smoke alarms will be another safety step. When Martin returns to start Graduate School in a few months, he will be reassured—and she will be less worried—about the danger of home fires.

Be Prepared for a Home Fire – Communication is key!

  • Establish a family emergency communications plan and ensure that all household members know who to contact if they cannot find one another.
  • Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year. Press the smoke alarm test button or yell “Fire“ to alert everyone that they must get out.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to call 9-1-1.
  • Teach household members to STOP, DROP and ROLL if their clothes should catch on fire.

 

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Evacuee Martin Freerks shows workers, Tom Davis and Cindy Warner, the dozer tracks along the perimeter of his property.

For more tips, visit www.redcross.org/firesafety. If you’d like to donate and help those recover from home fires, click here.