Historic Wisconsin Flooding; Heroic Red Cross Response

By Amber Finley, American Red Cross

Early morning, on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, Southeastern Wisconsin residents woke to rain waters filling their homes. A few days later, Mother Nature struck again; creating flash floods in the Southwestern part of the state, leaving residents and communities devastated with the worst flooding in Wisconsin since 2008. Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergencies for all 17 counties within a week.

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With neighbors looking to begin the clean-up and recovery process, the American Red Cross came in full-force to assist in the efforts.  In all, 10 shelters were opened and neighbors were invited to use the Red Cross facilities to shower, eat a meal, stay overnight, receive minor medical attention and, most of all, a compassionate shoulder to lean on was available 24/7.

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To assist individuals in getting on their feet, more than 2,000 flood victims were provided with clean-ups kits filled with necessary items, such as mops, gloves, bleach, all-purpose cleaners, and masks, to begin the clean-up process. The Red Cross also provided more than 5,500 people with essential bulk items like bottled (canned) water; courtesy of Miller Coors, bug spray donated by SC Johnson, and even a warehouse and forklift from Kwik Trip provided a receiving location for the many trucks arriving from the St. Louis warehouse.

The Red Cross also coordinated with community partners such as the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, WE Energies, Aurora Health Care, and state health services by opening three Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARC). The Red Cross MARC’s provided flood victims with a ‘one-stop shop’ to meet with partnering agencies to secure assistance for their long-term recovery.

For an elderly woman, fighting leukemia, Colleen Manderfeld’s nightmare was true as her sump pump failed and her hobby room was full of murky water. Colleen and her two sons began the cleaning process but were soon over-whelmed. Having seen the Red Cross on television she attended the MARC and asked about what assistance may be available.

WI Floodings - July 2017

Colleen Manderfeld with trained Red Cross Volunteer, Laurel Cooper

Because of her illness, any growth of mold or risk of getting sick can be detrimental to her health. Via collaborative efforts, she received cleaning supplies, bleach, vital information and our community partner Samaritan’s Purse will be visiting Colleen’s home to remove damage from the flooding, as well as thoroughly clean, to eliminate the risk of mold. By having multiple resources available to the flood victims, the road to long-term recovery is shortened. “Colleen had a remarkable sense of personal pride and a positive attitude which she learned from her mother. It takes an even bigger person to ask for help.” shares Amber Finley, a disaster responder. “A hug, a meal, financial support and all the little things we could do to show them it was going to be O.K. was what today was about.”

 

The Red Cross is driven by local volunteers who give of their time, talent and treasure to ensure each disaster victim is supported.

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!

 

When Letting Go Saves A Life

By Barbara Behling, Wisconsin Red Cross Chief Communications Officer

Baby Adrianna and Mom

Three day weekends for many include family, fellowship, food and fun. For the Garcia family, Labor Day turned into a day of panic, horror and help from the American Red Cross.

In the early morning hours, Felipe Garcia was woken by the faint sound of the hallway smoke alarms, and he smelled smoke. He rose from his bed, went to hallway door, opened it and immediately shut-it. “It was filled with black-smoke so thick I didn’t want to take my family out there,” he stated. He turned, yelled for his two teenage boys to wake-up, and for his wife to get herself and 5-month old Arianna up.

Even though they lived on the second floor of the Middleton, Wisconsin apartment building, he knew they would have to escape out the window. “We did what we had to do. So I lowered the first boy out the window as far as I could reach and then let him go. He hit the ground hard. We repeated this for the second teenager. When I turned to my wife for the baby, we knew it was imminent I would have to drop her too. With the boys on the ground, they caught her softly,” he recalls.

Standing outside their burning building, they watched as the fire department fought to save the building, and assessed their injuries. One of the boys’ ankle, and the others’ wrist, was throbbing and the baby wouldn’t stop coughing, so all went to the Emergency Room for immediate help. X-rays for the boys proved nothing was broken.

Upon returning to the apartment complex, the Garcia family was met by American Red Cross disaster responders. Even with English being their second language, it did not take long to translate the fear and pain in each of their stories. Our bi-lingual responder assured them the Red Cross would be there for them as they asked, “What do we do next?”

The fire investigation was going to take all day, and depending on power and water, residents were likely not be able to return for up to a week, or longer, due to the damage. With the weekend temperatures reaching 92 degrees, and humidity nearing the same level, it was miserable for anyone to be outside for long periods of time. Therefore, the Red Cross opened a shelter in the nearby Middleton High School. This air conditioned building had bathrooms, cool air and places to gather. Not only that, but the residents were greeted with coffee, juice, water and hot breakfasts, plus some donuts too! From the time they arrived, the sense of relief was evident on their faces.

As people started to relax, the Red Cross’ mental health and health services responders went table-to-table to casually strike up conversations, check on everyone’s emotional state, and to ensure no injuries were overlooked.  To a casual observer, the shelter almost looked like a regular family reunion: people were chatting, kids were playing and food and beverages were provided throughout the day. Best of all, little Arianna was smiling, giggling and acting like a 5-month old. As this was happening, the Red Cross team back at the fire site was working with the apartment management and fire and local officials to determine what emergency housing needs would be needed.

As for the Garcia family, they were able to fill clothesbaskets with clothing, medications, a few toys and items they would need. Family and friends stepped in to offer shelter while their apartment underwent cleaning and repairs. In addition, the Red Cross provided financial assistance for food and miscellaneous needs. The Red Cross also provided personal hygiene items and helped them navigate the recovery process.

The support of the American Red Cross is only possible due to the dedicated staff and volunteers, community partners and donors alike. For more information on how you can help, please visit redcross.org.

May Volunteer Spotlight: Nancy Johnson

Nancy JohnsonCongratulations to Nancy Johnson of Walworth County on being named one of the May 2015 Volunteers of the Month!

Intrigued by disaster response activities and supporting clients affected by disasters, Nancy joined the American Red Cross in early 2005. Nancy explains, “Being a military wife and mother, I have found that volunteering has always made life easier. I began by going into the Racine office once a week and helping wherever necessary. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast we began getting clients in Wisconsin, and I worked with getting clients settled in the area. When Rita came six weeks later, I knew I wanted to go and immediately made myself available. I was assigned to Lake Charles and worked with a team doing disaster assessment. The joy of working with clients in need, meeting and sheltering with volunteers from various places in the United States was very fulfilling.”

Since 2006, Nancy has continued to volunteer as a deployment officer. Her nominator, Melisa Myers, of Disaster Staff Services said, “Nancy has been a deployment officer for years now, since becoming one statewide region, deployment officers have been asked to take on other roles, including further developing our national deployment process. Nancy was asked if she would be able to help reach out and talk to returning volunteers from national responses. Nancy was able to help by contacting volunteers and having conversations with them about their experience, current roles, and future roles. With Nancy’s help, we as a region are able to help volunteers feel supported before, during and after a deployment.”

“Staff Service has been my favorite part of working with the American Red Cross. Now that I am unable to travel myself, I feel that being a deployment officer makes me feel just as much a part of the American Red Cross.”

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

May Volunteer Spotlight: Jeremy Oswald

Jeremy OswaldCongratulations to Jeremy Oswald on being named one of the May 2015 Volunteers of the Month!

Jeremy joined the American Red Cross in 2007. Jeremy explained, “It was a couple of years after the attacks of 2001 and I wanted to do something that served our country, thinking I would go to hurricane sites. It turns out the help I give is much closer to home, right in my community.”

Jeremy volunteers with the Disaster Action Team in Bayfield and Ashland counties. With very few responders in these areas, Jeremy is always willing to travel and meet with families after a devastating event, typically taking the lead covering calls. Just recently, he assisted six families in Ashland after their apartment was destroyed by a fire.

Jeremy shared his favorite part about volunteering is knowing that what he does helps individuals and families who may not receive support in any other way by being there to get them started on a path to recovery. Jeremy encourages everyone to join as a volunteer of the American Red Cross.

“It is really easy to volunteer and do something that makes a gigantic difference in someone’s life. You may be scared to do it, to take that step into the unknown, but think about the people that may have just lost their home, they have no clothes, its ten degrees below zero, and you hand them a bag with a toothbrush, soap, a towel, and take them somewhere they can finally get warm and feel safe.”

Thank you, Jeremy, for sharing your talents and time with the American Red Cross!

Stories from our Volunteers: Tornado Deployment in Little Rock Arkansas

By Kathy Schuh-Ries, Disaster Volunteer 

Travis Waack, Regional Manager, Direct Services, working with Kathy Schuh-Ries in filling out her deployment paperwork.

Travis Waack, Regional Manager, Direct Services, working with Kathy Schuh-Ries in filling out her deployment paperwork.

On May 2nd, I was deployed by the Red Cross to assist as a Mental Health volunteer in Little Rock Arkansas. An F4 tornado had touched down the Sunday before leaving 16 people deceased, with mass destruction to the towns of Mayflower and Velonia.  The tornado was ¾ of a mile wide and left behind slabs with piles of debris where homes and neighborhoods once stood.

After signing in at Red Cross Headquarters in Little Rock and receiving my assignment, I joined other workers in setting up an outreach center in Beryl Baptist Church in Conway Arkansas. I was part of a team of three. Two of my co-workers followed a Red Cross ERV (emergency response vehicle) delivering food to disaster areas and talking to people in the neighborhoods while I met people who walked in at the church. I listened to their account of the events that happened to each one personally. In assessing the needs through these conversations I was able to refer for resources to assist in recovery.

At Beryl Baptist, the Red Cross staffed a shelter that assisted families and individuals during the first week. When the shelter was no longer needed, the church assisted in food distribution. Volunteers from the church assisted in this distribution of canned goods, water and other items that where donated. Clothing was distributed in a church down the road.

Some of the destruction in the Arkansas area, but the American Flag still stands.

Some of the destruction in the Arkansas area, but the American Flag still stands.

I was able to meet individuals and families and refer them for other services at the MARC (Mass Assistance Recovery Center) a place in town where twelve different agencies were equipped to assist people who needed medical services, eye glasses, food, clothing, tree and debris removal etc. The center was located four miles away from the church.

I was touched by the many volunteers who responded to this horrific disaster. While there were too many to remember, I want to note a few. The Southern Baptist, who cooked thousands of meals which then were delivered by the Red Cross throughout the town and on Saturday, the day we arrived, bus loads of volunteers (1,500), came to assist in debris removal and clean up.

To read more about Kathy’s deployment, here is a link to the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter who did a story about her deployment.  

THANK YOU Kathy from your friends at the Red Cross for being there to answer the call!!