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.

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!

 

“Hey, Don’t Freak Out!”

 

For Denise Parker hitting ‘send’ to her husband Anthony Parker, who is stationed in Kodiak, Alaska and serving in the US Coast Guard, was a scary proposition. Upon opening his email, he knew the next words would not be good. Thankfully, seven days after the Northern Wisconsin floods, he can chuckle about it “that’s the best she could do?” he smiled a sheepish grin knowing his wife experienced a harrowing experience and her life may have been in danger. Through the support of the American Red Cross, Services to Armed Forces Emergency Communications program, he was by her side as the reality of several feet of water in their home set in.

On July 11th, more than a foot of rain fell with several inches of rain in just over an hour. The babbling streams turned into torrent rivers, washing away roads and scaring the landscape adjacent to majestic Lake Superior.

As the water rose above her ankles, Denise knew she and the pets were in trouble. She called 9-1-1. They traveled three separate routes but could not reach her; they retreated. She felt alone.  Via Facebook, her mother was able to reach a gentleman nearby with a ‘pick-up’ truck. She was rescued, with no time to spare, after she waded through chest deep water. In each hand, she carried a five-pound pet. The Great Dane wanted nothing to do with the water outside and refused to swim so he was left in the home. Her eyes filled with tears as she shared the thought of him drowning as the Marengo River now ran through her home.

Once safe, she sent an email to her husband serving on the USS Alex Haley. Fortunately, the ship was coming into dock.

She also reached out to her local American Red Cross, like she had done twice before to reach her husband serving abroad throughout the course of his career. In each instance, the Red Cross validated the emergency – a father’s illness and her surgery – for the commanders and in each instance; he was granted emergency leave to be with his family.

“Hey, don’t freak out. I’m o.k. that’s what is most important. The house is under water and the rabbits died.”  As he says, “Don’t freak-out is the best she could do? She also didn’t say the water was up-to the steering wheel in my 2010 F-150 truck.”  She retorts, “I could have died last night.” They can smile about it now.

For Red Cross responder, Marilyn Skrivseth, this case struck a similar cord as her first contact with the Red Cross when her brother was serving oversees and the Red Cross made an emergency connection.  At first, she worked with the Parkers on the phone to begin casework.

She also encouraged them to visit the Multi-Agency Resource Center for cleaning supplies, bottled water and to garner referrals for assistance. Upon arrival, they received bottled water, cleaning supplies, bleach and more material goods. What they also received was contacts for a “muck-out” team which helps families remove the water, sludge, drywall and personal items.  Any soft material will be destroyed.  Knowing he has a short emergency leave, the race is on to recover from this disaster. Thankfully, due to the Red Cross support, they are not alone.

By: Barbara Behling

Photos: Marilyn Janke

 

Wisconsin Floods — Red Cross Responds

Heavy rains caused flooding throughout Northern Wisconsin earlier this week. Since then, it’s been a flurry of flood relief activities with the Northwest Wisconsin Chapter leading the charge. Red Cross services have included providing clean up supplies, bottled water and connecting one-on-one with affected families who need shelter, health or other immediate disaster relief. An Incident Integrated Care & Condolence Team is also working with the families of the three fatalities.

Today, Red Cross workers are delivering clean-up kits (bucket, mop, broom, squeegee, gloves, bleach, brush, etc.) to the following locations:

  • Methodist Church, Hayward – 35 kits and Flood Recovery  Booklets
  • Minong, Town Hall, Washburn – 50 clean-up kits and Flood Recovery Booklets
  • County Health & Human Services, Ashland – 40 additional Clean-up kits, 60 cases of water, flathead shovels, garbage bags, gloves (Yesterday, 37 Clean-up kits, bleach, bottled water, perishable food and Flood Recovery Booklets.)

All locations listed above are coordinating distribution to the public.

As of Thursday evening, our Client Casework team met one-on-one with individuals/families affected by flooding and had opened 24 cases, with the majority being on the Bad River Reservation in Ashland County. Case work will continue through this weekend and by appointment should contact the Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 800-236-8680.

The Red Cross encourages residents to stay safe by following safety tips:

  • During cleanup, wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
  • Dry-out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building.
  • When in doubt, take it out! Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried. These items can remain a source of mold growth and should be removed from the home. Removal and cleaning are important because even dead mold may cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent/bleach and water.
  • Homeowners may want to temporarily store items outside of the home until insurance claims can be filed.
  • Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way.
  • Turn around, don’t drown. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.

We are greatly appreciative of Premium Waters and Kwik Trip who both donated pallets of water.

The best ways for you to help is by supporting our efforts with a financial gift or volunteering your time. We rely on volunteers to provide humanitarian relief during times of disaster and we’ll get you trained before the next disaster strikes.   To learn more, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

Throughout Wisconsin, we respond to nearly 900 disasters every year. You can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support 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. Click http://www.redcross.org/Wisconsin or call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

 

 

It’s National Volunteer Week!

The American Red Cross Wisconsin Region is honoring all volunteers and the work you do in the community during National Volunteer Week, April 10-17.

As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for Red Cross volunteers and am reminded that volunteerism and the human spirit are beautifully intertwined. I truly believe Red Cross volunteers are the brightest and most uplifting people in our communities. The best part of my job is getting to know you and seeing you in action.  Recently, I had the chance to talk with a new volunteer who was very excited to join our team. When I asked what motivated her to get out of her bed in the middle of the night to respond to the scene of a fire she said, “I am able to do it, so why wouldn’t I?”. Another volunteer will achieve a major milestone this August – volunteering with the Red Cross for 60 years! His favorite saying is, “part of our payment for being on this earth is to give back”. 

Last month, a Red Cross volunteer turned 100-years-old and celebrated by hosting a blood drive with a goal of collecting 100 pints (1 for each candle). She blew that away – 114 pints were donated in her honor. While Red Cross volunteers have diverse backgrounds and perspectives, you share many similarities. Red Cross volunteers share an incredible selfless spirit and an urge to do good for others.

I am honored to work alongside all of you and am inspired each day because of the compassion you show. Thank you for sharing your time and talents with the American Red Cross! 

Patty Flowers

Chief Executive Officer

American Red Cross – Wisconsin Region

Red Cross offers shelter from the fire

Kenosha resident, Katryane Jenkins, has spent four nights at an overnight shelter provided by the American Red Cross at Bradford High School.  Katryane, along with over 60 people at the 20-unit apartment building she was living in, was displaced after an apartment fire resulted in utilities being shut off until Monday morning.

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Katrayne Jenkins (center front) receives the help she needs at the Red Cross Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC).

Katryane, a full time student and mother to two young daughters, ages nine and two, is no stranger to the services that are provided from the Red Cross.  In the last five years, she has experienced two fires – each with a distressing impact on her life.

Four years ago, the duplex Katryane was living in caught fire. Unable to return to her home, she looked to the Red Cross to help her get back on her feet. The Red Cross provided her with a warm place to stay at a local hotel, money for food, resources to get clothes, as well as money to help with a security deposit on a new home. She says she’s thankful for that help.

Building

The 20-unit apartment building where Katrayne lived.

Having had this experience, Katryane felt more prepared to handle a similar situation years later. When she heard the smoke alarms in her building sound – her heart beating faster with every chirp of the alarm – she knew she needed to stay calm and move quickly. As the smell of smoke quickly filled the apartment, she already knew where to find the closest fire exits, and had practice getting out of the home quickly.

Katryane was also able to emotionally prepare herself – deal with the feelings of sadness and anger – because she knew what it felt like to lose her belongings.  While others may find it difficult to handle emotions, Katryane says that her experience has helped her have compassion for her fellow residents involved in the recent fire.  She also knows the importance of providing support to others.  “We’ve been there to lean on each other for support,” Katryane says.

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Red Cross volunteers staff the MARC

During this time, Katryane is using other resources provided by the Red Cross, such as the meals and snacks, as well as comfort kits containing personal care items such as toothbrushes, deodorant, shaving supplies, and other personal hygiene items. She finds it important to use the mental health services and talk to someone when she’s feeling down.  On Thursday, March 10, she visited the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) that was set up at the Kenosha Transit Center to learn about additional resources available to aid her recovery. At the MARC, representatives from government, non-profit, and faith-based organizations were on hand to offer assistance. These representatives, along with the Red Cross, worked with Katryane to find her and her family a permanent residence.

Today, Katryane is looking to maintain control of her life. While completing her Business Management Degree at Gateway Technical College, she is looking to the future and focusing on settling her family in a new home.

The Red Cross provided multiple families in Kenosha with a shoulder to lean on, and help to establish a plan of ‘what to do next.’ Financial assistance was provided for basic needs, such as food, clothing, infant supplies, shelter, transportation and more.  You can help the Red Cross help families after fires with a financial gift at  redcross.org/donate.

You’re Invited to the 9th Annual Heroes Musicales Extravaganza!

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Beautiful Waushara county isn’t just for antiquing, water activities, quaint restaurants and lovely family-run B & B’s and hotels, we’re the center of the musical world on Saturday, April 30th. Especially if you like world-class musicians, delicious hors d’oeuvres, refreshments and more than 200 silent auction treasures, please join us at the 9th Annual Heroes Musicales at the log home of American Red Cross volunteers Vicki & John Jenks just west of Wild Rose. Three Musicales (mini concerts) from Wisconsin’s Best Bluegrass Band,  a trio back by popular demand who are NPR ‘regulars’ plus a Carnegie Hall pianist and Chicago’s finest harpist will delight your senses. This volunteer driven event has the local support of businesses, organizations, churches and philanthropic citizens alike. Proceeds from the day support Disaster Relief & Education along with Services to Armed Forces!

Heroes Musicales line-up:

  • 11:00a.m. Features the down-home, authentic sound of Wisconsin’s Best Bluegrass Band, Art Stevenson & High Water.  Heard on bluegrass radio programs around the USA, they’ve received critical acclaim in Bluegrass Unlimited and Bluegrass Now industry publications.
  • 1:30p.m. Harmonious Wail is “back by popular demand!”  National Public Radio ‘regulars’ and the recipient of countless MAMA and Isthmus Readers Polls, the Wail features “smoldering vocals and an infectious blend of continental jazz, swing, and folk music.”
  • 4:00p.m. Carnegie Hall virtuoso pianist, Jodie DeSalvo and Chicago’s finest harpist, Faye Seeman.  Their “Made in America” show will include Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and so much more!

The Heroes Musicales were conceived by John & Vicki Jenks nine years ago as a way to marry their passion for music and the communities need for disaster relief and education programs. Since then, this event has grown with outstanding support from Waushara, Green Lake, Marquette and Waupaca County disaster volunteers along with this year’s sponsors:  Badger Mining Corporation, Farmers State Bank, 1st National Bank, Martz Insurance, Waupaca Foundry, Brakebush Brothers, Krause Foundation, Mt. Morris Holden WELCA. All Saints CCW, Anita & Lawrence Mielke Memorial Fund, John Gusmer, Jackie King, Rose Wendt, and Rick & Joni Parks.

Seats are limited and always sell-out! Reserve your seats now at just $35 per person/per musicale. To order, please email Vicki Jenks at vickipjenks@gmail.com or call 920-231-3590.

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