Tornadoes, power outages, extreme heat and an explosion: how Red Cross ‘helped our communities’

Story and photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Elizabeth Arnold forked into another bite of spaghetti in red sauce Tuesday afternoon in the cafeteria at Menominee Tribal School in Neopit. Just moments before, Arnold and others eating in the lunch room applauded at the announcement by officials that power had been fully restored for the first time since Friday’s wild storms.

Elizabeth Arnold Laurel Russ Tribal School meal select July 23 2019

American Red Cross volunteers Laurel Cooper, left, and Russ Van Skike serve up a warm, tasty meal of pasta to Elizabeth Arnold on Tuesday in Neopit.

“This is the first warm meal I’ve had since Friday,” Arnold said between bites of pasta.

The American Red Cross partnered with Salvation Army and leaders from the Menominee Nation and Menominee County to serve the lunch for dozens of families on Tuesday. The groups also provided information on power outage preparedness and dealing with food spoilage. It was part of an ongoing, statewide response by the Red Cross, which kicked off in earnest with an explosion in Madison on Friday morning and then continued into the week following thunderstorms, hail, small tornadoes and extreme heat that blasted across Wisconsin.

The Red Cross has established, partnered with or supported approximately 14 reception centers – located along the path of storms and destruction from Neopit to Mishicot, from Appleton to Waupaca, and from Madison to Balsam Lake – for residents in need of water, snacks, power and sometimes meals and showers. Through Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross had provided nearly 1,400 hot and pre-packaged meals along with 570 cases of water across the state. Operations have also been set up to help with sheltering of clean-up partners like Team Rubicon in Langlade County and canteening for search and rescue teams in Menominee County. From Friday into Saturday, volunteers ran a cooling shelter at the Alliant Energy Center as the city of Madison dealt with a power station explosion that knocked out electricity during the brunt of a heat wave. Roles at Red Cross have been predominately run by a team of approximately 50 volunteers. Gov. Tony Evers has declared a State of Emergency from the storms. In partnership with county, state and tribal leaders, the Red Cross remains committed to bringing immediate needs and resources to residents affected by this devastating wave of storms.

From bottom right Emmeretta Corn Chantel Alveshive Kewascum Rosie Ricky Lee Stalla Joseph Tribal School July 2019

The whole family shares a laugh at youthful antics Tuesday during a lunch served at Menominee Tribal School. Pictured are, from bottom right, Emmeretta Corn, Chantel Alveshive, Kewascum, 4, Rosie, 3, Ricky Lee, 8, Stalla, 2, and Joseph, 4. 

After her meal, Arnold, a Menominee County board supervisor, loaded up extra meals into her truck to take to neighbors in Keshena also dealing with outages and unable to make the Tuesday lunch service. She turned to Red Cross volunteers: “Thank you for everything. You really helped our communities out.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, remnants of sheer winds and some of the verified tornadoes remained very present, like in Elderon, where trees were pulled from the ground with densely exposed roots and earth, and in Knowlton, where barn siding was ripped off and coiled across properties. At the fire department in Rosholt, volunteers have kept the doors open 24 hours for people in need of water, showers and somewhere to plug in. Here, the Red Cross has played a support role with water while keeping in contact with Portage County officials on immediate needs. Rosholt F.D. Chief Greg Michelkamp said the department generator had been cranking full-time since Saturday and that he hoped his neighbors would have the lights back on soon, for risk of longer term needs like sheltering or mass feeding.


For the latest weather alerts, preparedness tips and shelter info, download the free American Red Cross Emergency App here or in your app store.


In Appleton on Monday, one of two reception center sites operated from a community room at the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. There, a family of three recharged phones and contacted family via text and social media. KaZoua Lee scrolled through Facebook and said it was nice to have a place to plug back in and “let people know” they were OK, even without power for a few days. The three listened as a neighbor shared her stories of the storm and subsequent outage while her phone juiced up. Volunteer Sharon Holt of Combined Locks said the stories were typical from the more than 150 people who paced in and out of the center since Sunday morning.

Knowlton barn siding tornado July 2019

A confirmed tornado from weekend storms peeled off siding from this barn in Knowlton, Wisc.

Blocks from the Appleton site, mangled trees lined residential neighborhoods on either side of Highway 47, especially around the Erb Park area. City crews and electric company line workers were always within view or earshot. Neighbors likened this damage to the storms and weak tornados in 2016. David Williams, a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer with the Red Cross, was himself still running off a neighbor’s generator as he cleared away a smashed fence and broken tree limbs. Williams said he and his mother were lucky to have such community support.

“A lot of damage, but we’ll be alright,” Williams said.

Red Cross will continue to partner with local and state agencies in the days and weeks ahead as our neighbors continue their recovery.

Your generosity enables the Red Cross to mobilize support to people in need, up the street and across the county. Consider a donation to support volunteers and resources for people affected by a disaster. Click here to take action.

Do you know a local hero? Red Cross searching for Wisconsin nominees

For Brittany, it happened at the gym. Gagandeep and Chetna were on vacation. Leroy was volunteering.

Brave Hearts posed umbrellas Brittany family

Brittany Sabin, center in red, gave life-saving CPR to a man who collapsed at her gym. Here, she poses with friends and family during the 2018 Brave Hearts awards in Menomonee Falls.

Acts of heroism are all around us, every day. The American Red Cross of Wisconsin celebrates those heroes at three events each year. We need your help to identify outstanding heroes in our community at these three Wisconsin events: Evening of Heroes in Wisconsin Dells, Heroes Breakfast in Eau Claire, and Brave Hearts in Milwaukee.

 

Whether they’re stepping up during a medical emergency to provide assistance or helping others through a lifetime of volunteerism, heroes reflect what is best about our community.

Do you know someone who should be recognized? Click the event titles below for nomination details, award categories and event information:

 

Leroy NW hero consoles fellow veteran screenshot

Leroy “Buzz” Thompson consoles a fellow veteran as part of his volunteer efforts, one of the reasons he was chosen for an award.

Evening of Heroes

Nominations due October 31st  

Eligible counties: Adams, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Florence, Forest, Grant, Green, Iowa, Iron, Jefferson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Portage, Price, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Taylor, Vernon, Vilas and Wood counties in Wisconsin and Houston County, Minnesota.

 

Heroes Breakfast

Nominations due December 31st

Eligible counties: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pierce, Pepin, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Trempealeau, and Washburn.

NW Heroes Breakfast doctors speak

2018 honorees Chetna Mangat, at podium, and Gagandeep Singh used their backgrounds as doctors to save a life while on vacation. 

Brave Hearts

Nominations due December 31st

Eligible counties: Dodge, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth and Waukesha.

Questions? Please contact McKenna Olson at mckenna.olson@redcross.org

Local Hero Nominations Needed!

Image for Blog

The American Red Cross of Wisconsin is accepting nominations for 2018 Hero Award recipients.  Each year, the American Red Cross recognizes everyday heroes in our community at three events in Wisconsin: Evening of Heroes in Wisconsin Dells, Heroes Breakfast in Altoona, and Brave Hearts in Milwaukee.

Our three events recognize individuals who have done extraordinary deeds in the community!  Whether they’re stepping up during a medical emergency to provide assistance or helping others through a lifetime of volunteerism, heroes reflect what is best about our community.

Do you know of anyone that should be recognized?  If so, please nominate them for one of our three hero events across the state! Details and categories vary by event.  For more information about our events, please click the links below:

  • Evening of Heroes – www.redcross.org/eveningofheroes
    • Nominations due December 1st
    • Eligible counties: Adams, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Florence, Forest, Grant, Green, Iowa, Iron, Jefferson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marinette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Portage, Price, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Taylor, Vernon, Vilas and Wood counties in Wisconsin and Houston County, Minnesota.
  • Heroes Breakfast – www.redcross.org/northwestwiheroes
    • Nominations due December 31st
    • Eligible counties: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pierce, Pepin, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Trempealeau, and Washburn.

If you have any questions, please contact McKenna Olson at mckenna.olson@redcross.org.

Flood Relief Touted by Top State Leader

Surrounded by American Red Cross responders, corporate leaders and Wisconsin’s Governor, Scott Walker, Patty Flowers kicked-off a news conference to highlight flood relief efforts. She also issued a call to action for people to get involved by preparing for emergencies, donating their time as a blood donor, becoming a disaster responder in your own communities, of which the training is free, and by making a financial gift to support the ongoing relief efforts.

From left to right: Rebecca Fitzgerald (Johnson Controls Inc.), Patty Flowers (Red Cross Regional CEO), Laura Timm (Briggs & Stratton), Mary Lou Young (United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha), Governor Scott Walker, Jim Ladwig (SC Johnson), Tami Garrison (MillerCoors), Lisa Nelson (Walmart)

The Wisconsin region of the Red Cross responds to nearly 900 disasters annually and the recent 20-county flood counts as just one disaster. Overall, 90% of the Red Cross workforce is volunteer including the board of directors. Disaster teams have provided the following services during the flooding:

  • Opened and operated 10 shelters
  • Supported four Multi-agency Resource Centers
  • Distributed 9,360 relief items
  • Served more than 4,000 meals and snacks
  • Provided more than 250 health and mental health contacts.

In addition, the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 is open 24 hours a day for anyone who has been affected by the flood and may need additional emotional support.

Governor Walker shared that when he travels the state to disaster areas, he is always comforted knowing Red Cross responders are there.

All disaster assistance is free as it is a gift from the American people. All financial donations, large and small, make a tremendous impact as 91 cents of every dollar goes directly into programs and services. A $25 dollar donation provides a household with valuable clean-up supplies after a flood, while $200 covers the cost for a family of four to stay in a shelter, provide three meals, personal hygiene items and resources to begin recovery.

Business leaders joining in the news conference included Jim Ladwig, Director Global Community Affairs from SC Johnson who presented the Red Cross with a $100,000 check for disaster relief. Lisa Nelson from the Walmart Corporation also presented a $50,000 check — $25,000 of which will benefit the Wisconsin relief and $25,000 of which will support the Illinois response efforts. Four other Wisconsin companies made gifts of $10,000+ to help with the recent floods– Associated Bank, Logistics Health, Gold’n Plump and We Energies. With these donations, almost half the flooding expenses will be covered.

From left to right: Patty Flowers (Red Cross Regional CEO), Governor Scott Walker, Jim Ladwig (SC Johnson)

The Red Cross thanks its partners in the Annual Disaster Giving Program and Disaster Responder program who contribute $250,000 or more annually to ensure Red Cross has funds to support disaster relief: Johnson Controls, Kohl’s, Northwestern Mutual, Rayovac and SC Johnson.

The Red Cross is grateful to many corporate and community partners who donated goods, space and time to help reduce costs of the response.

With almost 900 disasters around the state each year, the fundraising needs are great so people can always count on the Red Cross during disasters.

You can help people affected by disasters like the recent floods and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Checks can be sent to the Milwaukee office at 2600 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Wisconsin’s Longest Tornado Leaves a Path of Disaster

Early evening 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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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. (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.

Welcome Rich Seymour

rich-seymourWe’re proud to announce that Rich Seymour has joined the Wisconsin team as our Service to the Armed Forces Director! Just retiring from the Army after 30 years, Rich is excited to start a career where he will continue to care for service members, veterans and their families.

During his illustrious work with the Army, he completed multiple deployments and attained the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank in the Army. Throughout his career he became familiar with and utilized the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces.

“I continuously used Red Cross as a tool to help the soldiers and families that I had under my leadership. I can give you hundreds of stories where Red Cross services contributed to the morale and welfare of the Armed Forces members.”

Originally from Baraboo, Wisconsin, he’s called many places “home” over the years -the Republic of Panama, South Korea, and various places stateside. Along for the ride have been his wife and two sons – and his dogs, too.

We could not be more excited to have Rich on the Red Cross team and back in his home state of Wisconsin!

If you’d like to get involved with the Red Cross, click here.

To look at Red Cross employment opportunities, click here.

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!