Wisconsin Red Cross Volunteers Give a Firsthand Account to Devastation, Response to Hurricanes

Story by James Ziech, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

As two deadly hurricanes struck the southeastern United States in September and October, more than 130 Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff from Wisconsin joined the national response.

Brenda Haney DA Hurricane Florence

Brenda Haney, from the Madison area, tallies damage during her deployment to North Carolina. (Photo by June Shakhashiri / American Red Cross)

Below is a snapshot of varied experiences of Wisconsin volunteers – from riding in helicopters to devastated towns to talking with people at shelters who had nowhere else to turn. While some volunteers have been deployed and come back, many more remain in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas as the recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael carry on for what will likely be months. (Find out how you can help the Florence recovery here.)

Tena Quackenbush of Black River Falls
Sheltering in North Carolina

Tena has been volunteering with The American Red Cross for about a year now. She was deployed to Houston last year as part of the response to Hurricane Harvey. But this experience in North Carolina was definitely different.

After going to a processing station, Tena and 10 others were flown in by Black Hawk helicopter to a shelter in Cerro Gordo to make relief and serve primarily the residents of Fair Bluff, whose town had been flooded out. Tena said it was rewarding to be able to show compassion and remove fears for those who had lost so much.

“When they learned that the shelter was closing and will have to move to another shelter, I could see the fear welling up in their eyes. We all took them outside as a group and individually for a prayer circle. After we were done, a little girl tugged on my shirt with tears in her eyes and said, ‘That was amazing’. When we left, people kept hugging us and thanking the American Red Cross for what they had done,” Tena said.

(Click here to check out a video of Mimi Maki, of Kewaunee, sharing the spiritual and emotional resources she’s providing in Florida.)

Evelyn Carter in Garland NC for Hurricane Florence Sept 22 2018

Evelyn Carter, from the Eau Claire area, provided mobile food delivery in North Carolina after Florence made landfall. (Photo Daniel Cima / American Red Cross)

Evelyn Carter of Eau Claire
Meals and driving in North Carolina

Evelyn has been volunteering for the American Red Cross for the past year and a half, active in anything from casework with clients and shelter assistance to disaster assessment and driving emergency response vehicles.

When asked to deploy, she immediately agreed. Evelyn and fellow volunteer David McDonald drove an emergency response vehicle (ERV) from the Wausau Red Cross office to Macon, Georgia. From there, they received orders for mobile assistance, which brought Evelyn to Lexington, North Carolina. Evelyn joined a caravan of vehicles to deliver hot meals to remote and disconnected parts of the state.

“It was adventurous and a challenge working with the victims and making sure you met their needs,” she said. “Whether it was one meal or several for their group, it was nice knowing that they can come up to get something to eat for the day. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but on my last day I had people coming up to me and hugging me and thanking me for all that we have done.”

Shana and deploying vols

Ana Perez, in red hat, reviews paperwork as she and fellow volunteers from southeast Wisconsin prepare for deployment with Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Justin Kern / American Red Cross)

Ana Perez of Sheboygan
Sheltering in North Carolina

Ana has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for past four years. Previously, she had been deployed to the hurricane response in St. Croix and to flooding damage in Kentucky. When she left for this deployment, she and five fellow Red Cross volunteers arrived at a school shelter in Edenton, North Carolina, where they were initially joined by a principal, a sheriff, two cooks and a school janitor to keep 40 people calm before the hurricane made landfall.

“My heart ached for everyone in the shelters, having their lives turned upside down,” she said.

Ana said she came to help but didn’t expect to be taught something in return. She knew one of the elderly clients from a previous shelter. The client did not have anyone else with her, but she did not complain. When Ana was working the registration desk three days in, she was approached by the lady carrying her belongings and told her she had a place to go.

“I will always remember her kindness … the patience and strength she had during this difficult time in her life,” Ana said. “[I] use it as a reminder to not let the circumstances around me control my emotions or peace.”

Terry Buchen of Madison
Logistics in Virginia and North Carolina

Terry has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for 10 years. He had been deployed in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and Georgia. Like many who were deployed recently, he was also able to help during flooding and storms in his own backyard this summer in Wisconsin.

During his deployment this time around, Terry has been responsible for managing a warehouse, loading of trucks and delivering supplies where they are most needed. It appears there is no stopping him either. “To me, you’re helping people and it is a lot of fun,” he said.

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ON THE GROUND AND IN THE SHELTER: RHINELANDER VOLUNTEER SHARES TEXAS TORNADO STORIES

By Max Seigle, American Red Cross Public Affairs Volunteer

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Carol on left with Marie (in ERV) who is from Nebraska and Jim (right) from Michigan.

Carol Miller started the New Year more than 1,000 miles away from home. She wasn’t on vacation or with her family. On January 1st, she arrived in Texas to help tornado victims for her 13th national deployment with the American Red Cross.

“I didn’t even think of it as a holiday. I just rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I just focused on what had to be done first,” Miller said in a recent interview with the Red Cross Public Affairs.

Miller, from Rhinelander, served as a Health Services Supervisor in communities near Dallas, following the deadly Texas tornadoes at the end of December. She was one of more than 580 Red Cross volunteers working in disaster zones across the state. Overall, the assisted close to 900 individuals and families in need.

“Insulation everywhere, piles of debris, all of their belongings, their lifetime… everything is stacked at the curb ready to be taken away,” Miller said.

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In part of her role, Miller saw first-hand the devastating aftermath of the tornadoes. In the city of Glenn Heights, she visited hard-hit neighborhoods with a Red Cross team offering a variety of assistance. Miller focused on securing immediate medical needs for residents.

“I helped replace a lot of prescriptions, wheel-chairs, walkers, eye glasses, helping people find sources for hearing aid replacement,” Miller said.

Miller also recalled helping a family find a new hospital bed for their mother and nebulizers for people with asthma. She talked about being an advocate for clients with their pharmacy and insurance company, and also helped with clinic referrals.

In the city of Garland, Miller spent time at Red Cross shelter. While serving there, she met a mother and her four kids, ages 2 to 13. Their father was in the hospital recovering from injuries he sustained in the tornado.

“The mom would get very tearful as she thought about her home and her concern about her husband and what they’re going to do next,” Miller said.

Miller worked with the family to get diabetic supplies for the mother and asthma medications for her five-year-old son. Other volunteers in the shelter helped with temporary housing assistance. Miller said the mother was grateful.

“My greatest reward is getting a hug from people like that,” she said.

During her deployment, Miller also heard stories from residents about the day the tornadoes hit. They described a pea-green sky and still surroundings, then the disaster.

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“This was more like five freight trains or a couple of jet engines,” she said residents told her.

The family she met at the Garland shelter said they took cover in a bathtub with the father holding a mattress on top of them. Afterwards, it took crews a half hour to 45 minutes to get them out of their home. She said the father had injuries that required surgery while everyone had cuts and bruises.

Miller spent more than a week in Texas. She’s now surpassed the dozen mark with 13 national deployments with the Red Cross. These are experiences she has grown to treasure.

“Just the thanks you get from the clients and just being able to help my fellow brothers and sister in their time of need. It’s very rewarding personally, it’s a way to give back because we’ve been very blessed,” she said.

Thank you Carol for proudly representing the Red Cross in Texas. Your desire to help others in their greatest times of need is inspiring.

The American Red Cross has many volunteer opportunities, including becoming a disaster responder, supporting military troops, and many more. Red Cross volunteers are united by their service and the feeling that in changing others’ lives, their lives are also changed. To learn more, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer or contact the office of Volunteer Resources at volunteerwisconsin@redcross.org.

 

The American Red Cross Responds to Wildfires; Local Volunteer Answers the Call to Help…. Part II

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Shirley and Rudy Senarighi

On Tuesday, July 22, Rudy Senarighi, of Sturgeon Bay, WI, packed his bags and was on a flight to Seattle, Washington to assist in the area of Disaster Mental Health for those impacted in the WA Wildfires.  We brought you Rudy’s story on July 25 and to read the first part of his story click HERE.

We are proud of Rudy for putting his life on hold to answer the call to help. We are happy to share that Rudy will be coming home to Wisconsin on Thursday from his Red Cross deployment. We thank him for sharing his thoughts, experiences, and how the Red Cross is helping those impacted….here is the rest of his story.

DAY 4:

It was a long, hot day in Pateros. Up at 5:00 AM to get some coffee before the drive north for a meeting of organizations in Pateros. We set up two tents near the high school to accommodate Disaster Mental health, Health Services and Client Casework. Had a number of folks stop in, some just to sit and relate their stories. The fire has burned down enough so damage assessment can get in and take a look around. The estimate prior to this was 200 homes destroyed. They now are saying they estimate over 300 were lost. Some are talking about rebuilding, some are just leaving, its sad. The town still has no power as 300 miles of wire and poles were burned and are down. They are hoping to get the main line along the highway and into town done over this weekend, but the laterals to the folks in the back country won’t be up for at least a month. Most of them are on generators, but there has been a rash of generator thefts. The orchard growers are bringing in big diesel generators to be able to water the orchards. They are estimating that they have lost 12 – 18% of their trees and fruit from the fire. A 75 year old smoke jumper team captain said in all his years of dealing with fires, he has never seen one as devastating as this one. By the way, my hot shower tonight was WONDERFUL!!!!

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DAY 5:

 91 degrees and clear sky in Pateros today but the good news is power is back on to most of the town. The outlying areas (dirt roads to the interior) are still w/o electricity. However, we are bringing in food, water and tomorrow will begin to bring in ice to them. Temps are predicted to hit mid 90s tomorrow. People continue to show up at Pateros high School with trailers or truck loads og goods to donate. Talked with a couple today who drove from Walla Walla to Pateros to donate. (mapquest that one) Some folks were sharing that they had been allowed back into their property and were sifting through the ashes. they said the found some ceramic stuff intact (been fired already) but everything else was burned or melted. As in every disaster there are weird stories about things surviving. A family pulled their trailer away as the flames were rolling up the hills toward their place. Their buildings were destroyed, but the patio table, chairs and umbrella were still standing untouched.


They are moving us to Brewster,WA in the next two days as they begin to restructure the approach. that will give us less driving to get to the affected area. Working in that temperature today was pretty draining. Kept hydrated, but I am really bushed tonight. Five more active days for me and then I outprocess and head home. Great experience here, but it really helps ground you in the reality of how fortunate you are to have a comfortable home and loved ones to return to.

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DAY 6: 

Flexibility. Plans changed. The fire blew up again in Black canyon which is 7 miles up the road from Pateros, so that’s where we were sent back to this morning. The scooper planes and helicopters along with firefighters on the ground handled it well. air was smokey for the morning but the fire was out. We made outreach trips to the Alta Lake area. 47 homes completely destroyed there along with many vehicles. Good news for the day is the temperature did not hit the predicted 102 degrees and stayed at 94. People are beginning to really come to our service center, which lessens our time driving the back roads looking for people. we’ve coordinated well with other agencies, and there is minimal duplication of services. At one point we thought we would be ramping down the operation, but there still is a lot of the forest hot and burning.

The reception that we have gotten from the people here is very positive and welcoming. My big “in” with one of the local leaders is that her favorite uncle is named Rudy. What a lucky guy.

DAY 7:

 

The community at Pateros is ending their mass feeding tomorrow. They have been operating from the high school, but need to get ready for the school year. All the donations stored there (and as Jacob Marley would say about the quantity, “it is a ponderous thing) need to moved and stored by Friday. We will be working with the Southern Baptist group to continue the feeding from our ERVs. Temperature is rising, hitting 106 today. We have put up tent awnings to deliver our casework from, but it still gets quite warm under the tents. People continue to return and shift through the ashes.
I have downloaded a couple of pictures of the area from my camera. You have to imagine 400 square miles looking like this. There is a picture of two cars in a driveway. The shiny ribbons of metal between them is melted aluminum from the cars. There is a constant smell in the air of wet ashes, like when you drown a campfire. Fire is now at the stage similar to a controlled burn. Most of the really hot spots are in the national forest. The terrain is rugged and remote and much of that will burn or be controlled by back fires.

It has been a week now and the shock is setting in for the people. Business is picking up.
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Day 8: 
Last day in the field. 109 degrees at 4:.00. Drank a LOT of water today. The fire flared up again and planes were ferrying water from the Columbia River back to the blaze and dropping it. Got a couple of pictures from the rise overlooking Pateros. Smoke made the air hazy for most of the morning, but it cleared off slightly by afternoon. Talked to one resident who lost his house who told me the ground got so hot the buried wires and PVC pipe melted. Attaching some photos of the planes scooping water from the river. tomorrow is my day off. Plan on a lazy day and doing some laundry. I out process on Thursday. If I don’t work that day I am going to try for a flight home. Got a nice goodbye from the folks in Pateros.

 

Deployment: Day One – Colorado Floods

By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communications Director

Deployment: Day one:  September 15, 2013

Twenty-four hours ago, I was saying yes, to assisting with the Colorado floods, and now here I am on a plane. This is my second National Red Cross Deployment. My first assignment was in 2008 for Hurricane Ike, deployed to Dallas, TX and then Houston and Galveston. It has been over five years since I have answered the call, so when this assignment came along I couldn’t say no.

IMAG1134I went into work, cleared my calendar, printed off a ton of information on Colorado and our response efforts, clean my house (yes, I am one of those people that has to have a clean house before I leave for a trip) and packed. I packed everything Red Cross I own (as seen by the picture to the right.)

My journey started out at 3:30 this am, to get ready and get to the airport for a 6am flight. As I am sitting back in my seat on my way to Denver I find it a coincidence that I am reading a book right now called “The Third Wave – A volunteer Story” by Alison Thompson. It was given to me by an amazing volunteer and it is about the inspiring account of what one woman and her friends can accomplish against the greatest odds.

It has me thinking as I am getting ready to pitch in and help those who have had their homes, possessions, and for some, have lost loved ones due to the floods, that it is amazing what one person can do, but it is even more amazing what an “army” of people can do.

photoThat is what I am doing. I am joining an army of people to help those who need it. That is what the Red Cross does. It gathers our trained group of workers and sends them to where the help is needed most. It is incredible the logistics that is behind a small operation, let alone something of this magnitude.

My assignment is that i will be assigned to a photographer as a sherpa? Yes, I wondered what that meant too.  He will be capturing pictures that tell the human side of this operation, and I will be putting the words to them.

Am I nervous? I can honestly say NO. I have been with the American Red Cross for over 12 years and it has prepared me to be ready. I am excited to share the great work of our team in photos and words. I hope these images and words inspire people to give. I thank the American people for your donations because it is allowing the American Red Cross to be able to respond to those impacted in Colorado and across the country affected by disaster.

Follow me on twitter @jweyers2 to share in this journey with me!

Local volunteers help prepare for Hurricane Irene

 

GREEN BAY – Local Red Cross volunteers are headed to the East Coast to help those in the path of Hurricane Irene.

Hurricane Irene is predicted to be the largest storm to hit the East Coast in more than 70 years.

An Emergency Response Vehicle, or ERV, from Green Bay and another from Stevens Point will be leaving this morning.  A volunteer from Manitowoc will be flying out for Rhode Island today to serve as a damage assessment supervisor.

Jerry Prellwitz of Green Bay will drive one of the ERVs along with another volunteer from Neenah.

“I just want to help people,” said Prellwitz. “I just feel this is my way of giving back and if somebody can use my help, I’ll lend it and I’ll give it to them.”

In addition, more than 200 Red Cross mobile feeding vehicles are heading towards the coast to help people in the path of the storm. Dozens of shelters are being prepared all along the East Coast.

“The Red Cross is moving volunteers, vehicles and supplies, getting ready for a response effort that spans nearly the entire East Coast,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “While we’re getting ready at the Red Cross, we want everyone in the storm’s path to get ready as well by getting a disaster kit, making a family emergency plan, and listening to local officials regarding evacuations.”

Irene could affect blood collections along the East Coast at a time when the nation’s blood supply is already low. The Red Cross is urging those who are eligible to give blood prior to the storm’s arrival.

American Red Cross disaster preparedness starts long before a hurricane makes landfall. On average, the Red Cross spends about $450 million on disaster relief every year.

If someone would like to support Red Cross disaster efforts, they can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.