‘You Don’t Know How Much Better I Feel Now’: Volunteer Kathy Markgraf Calls In with an Update from Puerto Rico

Interview by Justin Kern, American Red Cross / Photos from Puerto Rico by Scott Dalton, American Red Cross

Kathy Markgraf is one of our very special American Red Cross volunteers in Wisconsin. After a successful career shaping the lives of teens as a Spanish teacher, she joined our volunteer teams with a specialty in connecting with Spanish-language families affected by disaster. Markgraf, of Lodi, brings an invaluable mix of compassion and language skills to families experiencing home fires and other tragedies.

Kathy MarkgrafIn mid-January, Markgraf brought her casework skills to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after rounds of earthquakes shook the island. (She also deployed to Puerto Rico twice for similar work after Hurricane Maria.)

On Jan. 22, Markgraf took a moment from her evening to share a sliver of her experiences so far in helping people after the ongoing earthquakes in Puerto Rico. An edited version of her conversation appears below.

Where is your base of operations right now?

San Juan, but Mayaguez is where we stayed last night and we’ve been told we may move to that [western] part of the island in the next couple of days. The [Red Cross] mental health and health services teams are already operating in that area … it’s a lot closer to where things are happening.

Are you familiar with that are from when you went there a few years ago?

Yeah … after Hurricane Maria, the first time [I was deployed] I was based in San Juan and we traveled all over the island. The second time, I was down in Ponce, which is part of the area affected by the earthquake, though not the very center of it … It’s like going full circle for me, because I’m going to so many places I went to before, but they look so much better than they did … after the hurricanes. The one that hit me really hard: it used to be, as you drive out of San Juan toward the south coast, you drive over the mountains and you can see down to the coast to … an area near Santa Isabel where the windmills are set out onto the water and they were never working. A couple of days after we got here, we were driving over the ridge of the mountains and there were about 20 windmills and they were turning. It was cool to see the improvement.

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

Red Crosser Grace connects Miriam with her cousin, who she has not spoken with in years. Miriam and her husband Jose have been sleeping in a van outside of their home since the earthquakes began. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Utuado, Puerto Rico, Jan. 23, 2020

The footprint of this operation is probably considerably smaller than we originally thought. It’s a relatively small area … what is really affecting people is the fear. There are buildings and homes that are damaged close to where the quakes are. But, through a large area of the southern part of the island, you’ll sometimes feel the quakes. There hasn’t been anything big like there was, most of them run … 3.0 to 4.0, but there hasn’t been one over 5.0 for a week or so. But they happen a lot. Maybe 20 times a day.

What has been your experience as a Midwesterner with this particular type of natural disaster?

It’s not something we experience [in Wisconsin]. … I’ve never been in a big one. Here … you’ll be leaning against a railing and it’ll start [shaking] and your knees will wobble a little. They don’t last terribly long but because they’re so common, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who will not sleep in their homes at night, because they’re terrified by it. … There are dozens of informal camps that have opened up. They pitch tents, people drive by at night and sleep in their cars. There are the formal government shelters, in stadiums or basketball courts. There are also base camps that have been set up and some of those are several hundred people at a crack, run by the National Guard. What is cool to see is that, after [Hurricane] Maria, the whole island was devastated, they couldn’t help each other [because of widespread power, communications and travel challenges]. Now, that it’s a part of the island, it’s churches, community groups, people in the communities are getting together and collecting stuff – diapers, cases of water – and over the weekend they were coming in with convoys … of tents and air mattresses or games for the kids at these informal camps …

Mentioning the fear earlier, the people you’re interacting with as part of the Red Cross, how are you helping them to bring resources and alleviate some of that fear?

Puerto Rico Earthquake 2020

Mexican Red Cross volunteer offers Tailianis a hug at a makeshift tent camp. The Red Cross has more than 180 trained disaster workers on the island, supporting shelters and helping to care for more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and children. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross – Guánica​, Puerto Rico, Jan. 20, 2020

What my team has been doing, particularly our mental health people and spiritual care people – there are a lot of those volunteers already here in Puerto Rico – they’ve been going place to place, daily. There is a lot of psychological first aid from us and our mental health [workers] are very, very involved. It’s probably one of the greatest needs they have here at this point. … For about the first week, our [casework] team was doing a community assessment, where we drove into all of the affected areas and gradually eliminated areas that didn’t have a lot of need and particularly looked for these small informal camps. We met with community leaders and tried to assess, with an emphasis on elderly who may not being served, maybe people living alone, people who were bed-ridden, trying to locate what kinds of needs there were. We found that communities were checking on people and they could give us a lot of that information. But in the camps we’d go in and talk with them. One day I talked with a guy and he and his wife weren’t staying at the camp, but they came by every day and spent time there. They lived in the neighborhood. We just chatted for maybe five minutes. And when I was leaving he said, ‘You don’t know how much better I feel now.’ I was a caseworker just chatting with him, I wasn’t a [disaster mental health volunteer]. But they have so much confidence in the Red Cross, just seeing us there in our vests and stopping to … see how they’re doing, you can just see it makes them feel better.

What’s your team look like?

There are four of us deployed as Red Cross caseworkers. Two of us are Red Cross staff, one from Indiana and one from California, and two are volunteers, myself and one from Arizona. But beyond that we’ve been working with a lot of the local volunteers [from Cruz Roja Americana Capitulo de Puerto Rico]. In our team … one member was born and raised in Puerto Rico, one is from a Puerto Rican family … and I consider myself pretty bilingual at this point. I studied in college and spent most of my life as a Spanish teacher … at Poynette [High School], just north of Madison. Spanish is what took me to the Red Cross.  I retired and I said, ‘I have spent most of my life using Spanish to touch lives. What do I do now?’ And that took me to the Red Cross.

DISASTER COUNSELING/SUPPORT To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

EARTHQUAKE SAFETY You can find valuable information on how to be safe before, during and after an earthquake here.

RECONNECT WITH LOVED ONES The Red Cross has two easy ways to help people reconnect. The Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts to let friends and family know that they are out of harm’s way. The Red Cross also offers the Safe and Well website, safeandwell.org, which is a private and more secure option. It allows people to list their own status by customizing a message for their loved ones or selecting pre-scripted messages.

HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by the Puerto Rico Earthquakes by texting the word EARTHQUAKES to 90999 to make a $10 donation or indicating this disaster on the donation form on redcross.org, and printing and mailing to your local Red Cross chapter. The Red Cross honors donor intent, and all designated funds will be used to support the affected communities in Puerto Rico through emergency relief, recovery and preparedness efforts.

Earthquake App Brings Safety Information to Mobile Devices

The American Red Cross released its official Earthquake App, putting lifesaving information right in the hands of people who live in or who visit earthquake prone areas.

This free app—available in English or Spanish—is the third in a series created by the American Red Cross, the nation’s leader in emergency preparedness, for use on both iPhone and Android platforms. The Earthquake App comes on the heels of the highly successful First Aid and Hurricane apps, which have more than 1 million users.

“This app gives users instant access to local and real-time information, so they know what to do before, during and after earthquakes,” said Dr. Steven J. Jensen, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Committee, and a professor in emergency management at California State University at Long Beach. “The new, simplified ‘Shake Zone Impact Maps’ provide users with personalized local impact information on the status of their community in order to help them make crucial decisions.”

Features of the app include:

  • Earthquake epicenter location, impact magnitude and local geographical impact data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey;
  • Personalized push notifications, monitoring both magnitude and geography;
  • A “Shake Zone Impact Map” that provides real-time, simplified impact assessment when available;
  • Comprehensive reporting of all seismic activity for every geographic area in the United States;
  • Options to view the app in English or Spanish based on user handset settings;
  • One touch “I’m safe” messaging that allows users to broadcast reassurance to family and friends via social media outlets that they are out of harm’s way;
  • Locations of open Red Cross shelters;
  • Simple steps and checklists people can use to create a family emergency plan;
  • Preloaded content that gives users instant access to critical action steps, even without mobile connectivity;
  • Information on events that may happen after earthquakes such as fires and tsunamis;
  • Toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm; and
  • Badges users can earn through interactive quizzes and share on social networks.

“The new customizations and introduction of the ‘Shake Zone Impact Map’ can help individuals and families gain a better understanding of the effects of earthquakes both near their homes or where friends and family reside,” said Jack McMaster, president of Preparedness and Health and Safety Services for the Red Cross. “With more than 1 million downloads and high praise from the digital community, the Red Cross has established itself as a leader in mobile apps that put critical information in people’s hands when they need it most,” McMaster added.

National Red Cross experts in health, safety and preparedness have thoroughly reviewed and field tested the information and advice provided in Red Cross apps. A recent Red Cross survey found that apps have tied social media as the fourth most popular way for people to get information during emergencies, making the Red Cross app development effort even more important.

The Earthquake App can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross. Apps can help prepare people for disasters, but they are not a substitute for training. Red Cross First Aid and CPR/AED training empowers people to know how to respond to emergencies in case advanced medical help is delayed. People can visit redcross.org/takeaclass for course information and to register.

The Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year and we help people get ready to respond to emergencies by providing these apps for free. The Red Cross needs the help of the public to continue this lifesaving effort. People can make a donation to the Red Cross by going to redcross.org, texting REDCROSS to 90999 or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.

American Red Cross Helping Haiti Recover and Rebuild at Two-Year Anniversary of Earthquake

The Red Cross to date has spent and signed agreements to spend $330 million on Haiti earthquake relief and recovery efforts

Two years after the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross is helping people rebuild their homes and their lives and improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.

In a two-year update, the American Red Cross highlighted its emergency work after the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, as well as its recovery efforts over the past year. Recovery activities have included building homes, giving people opportunities to earn money, providing access to clean water and sanitation systems, supporting the delivery of health care, and teaching communities how to prevent the spread of diseases and be better prepared for future disasters.

“The money donated to the American Red Cross provided life-saving relief to millions of Haitians after the earthquake and is now being used for longer-term solutions such as helping people move from camps to permanent homes and communities,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

“Although progress is not as fast as we would like, recovery is well underway,” McGovern said, adding “for example, the pace of home construction has increased rapidly, with the American Red Cross and the rest of the global Red Cross network providing housing to more than 100,000 people at the two-year mark.”

Other highlights of the past year include: 

  • Providing clean water and sanitation services to more than 369,000 people
  • Providing health services and hygiene education to more than 2.4 million people
  • Reaching more than 3 million people with cholera treatment and prevention
  • Teaching more than 436,000 people how to better prepare for disasters
  • Providing livelihoods assistance – grants, jobs and other help – to 114,000 people

 The American Red Cross received about $486 million in donations following the earthquake, and has spent and signed agreements to spend $330 million on Haiti earthquake relief and recovery efforts in the first two years. The largest portion of spending has gone to food and emergency services, followed by housing, water and sanitation, health, livelihoods, disaster preparedness, and response to the cholera outbreak.

“In the coming year, the American Red Cross will focus on programs to renew communities, which include constructing and repairing homes, providing clean water and sanitation, health education, livelihood support and disaster preparedness programming,” McGovern said. “We also continue to support hospitals and clinics that are critical to providing access to needed medical treatment in Haiti, and we will maintain our efforts to combat cholera and teach people how to prevent diseases.”

Housing is a priority, and the American Red Cross is shifting its focus from providing transitional homes to building permanent homes and repairing damaged homes so people can return to their former neighborhoods.

Further information on Red Cross work in Haiti, including a copy of the two-year report, can be found at redcross.org/Haiti.

 About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

 

Disaster Update: Earthquake in Turkey

Rescue workers try to save people trapped under debris after an earthquake in Tabanli village near the eastern Turkish city of Van on Oct. 23, 2011. (Photo: Reuters/Abdurrahman Antakyali/Anadolu Agency)

The Turkish Red Crescent Society, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has determined that external assistance is not required at this time. As such, the American Red Cross is not accepting donations designated to this response operation.

Turkey – A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the eastern province of Van, Turkey on Sunday at 1:41 pm local time. The quake’s epicenter was below the village of Tabanli. Turkey is located on an active seismic zone and this is the most powerful earthquake to hit the country in over a decade. Dozens of buildings collapsed leaving many people injured, trapped, or homeless. Temperatures are close to freezing at night and aftershocks continue to strike the region.

Turkish Red Crescent is one of the largest disaster response organizations in Europe and has prepared extensively for large earthquakes.The Turkish Red Crescent headquarters in Ankara has sent more than 100 disaster specialists and thousands of relief supplies to the region. The Turkish government is leading the response effort and has mobilized vehicles, personnel, supplies and ambulances.Turkish Red Crescent volunteers and staff are working diligently to reach people trapped in the rubble. They have distributed more than 12,000 tents and 25,000 blankets, as well as food and clean water. The Turkish Red Crescent has set up feeding centers for those who have lost their homes or are unwilling to re-enter them, fearing aftershocks. A tent city is being set up in the stadium in the city of Ercis and blood products are being set to hospitals in the region.

The American Red Cross is in communication with partners in the region and is monitoring the situation closely. After the devastating 1999 earthquake in Turkey that left over half a million people homeless, the American Red Cross developed a strong partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent to help increase their response capacity. We have provided support following major earthquakes as well as supporting initiatives to strengthen disaster preparedness.

American Red Cross Contributes an Initial $10 Million to Assist Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Survivors

Contact: Public Affairs Desk
FOR MEDIA ONLY
media@usa.redcross.org
Phone: (202) 303-5551

The tsunami swiped away the gas station causing a fire which burn down the whole town. Photo: Japanese Red Cross

WASHINGTON, Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“We are grateful for the American public’s generosity and compassion following what has been declared one of the most devastating earthquakes in history,” said David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services with the American Red Cross. “The American Red Cross is in a unique position to help channel that support to our partner in Japan that is playing a critical humanitarian role and comforting the survivors.”

In addition to financial assistance, a disaster management expert from the American Red Cross arrived in Japan Monday for a week-long mission. She is serving on a seven-person, international team focused on providing high-level support and advice to the Japanese Red Cross, which continues to support the Japanese government’s earthquake and tsunami response.

Within 10 minutes of the earthquake, the Japanese Red Cross Society called its disaster management task force to national headquarters to begin mapping the response to the crisis. Photo: Tatsuya Sugiyama/Japanese Red Cross

The Japanese Red Cross is a highly experienced disaster relief organization with two million volunteers nationwide. Many local volunteers took immediate action following the disaster by distributing relief items, offering hot meals, clearing debris and providing medical transportation.

As concerns mount about damage to nuclear power plants in the north, the Japanese Red Cross is also focused on supporting the 200,000 people who have been evacuated from the exclusion zone. Many of the Japanese Red Cross branch offices have trained nuclear decontamination teams and equipment, including special tents for decontamination which can be used to support a government response. A specialist medical team at the Nagasaki Red Cross hospital is on standby, ready to receive patients if people become ill as a result of radiation poisoning. Other hospitals in the area are monitoring radiation levels to protect the patients they are currently treating.

At public shelters and throughout the country, local volunteers are handing out relief items, including more than 65,000 blankets which are of great comfort to the displaced, many of whom had been sleeping outdoors, in their vehicles and wherever else they can find space since the earthquake.

“There is a real concern for the elderly, who are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia,” said Meltzer. “Japan is a country with a high proportion of seniors, and the Red Cross will be doing all it can to support them through this dreadful experience.”

More than 100 medical teams, made up of more than 700 people, including doctors and nurses have been providing assistance in the most affected areas through mobile medical clinics. Trained nurses with the Japanese Red Cross are also offering psychosocial support to traumatized survivors.

While the damage is undeniably severe and needs enormous, thousands of survivors are grateful for their lives post-disaster. Investments in early-warning systems and disaster preparedness and other training programs, including those from the American Red Cross following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, paid off in the Pacific Basin last week. The Japanese government’s own system helped hundreds of thousands evacuate to the approximately 2,000 shelters supported by the Japanese Red Cross before the first tsunami waves reached the mainland. And Red Cross societies in Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Palau and Fiji undoubtedly saved lives by alerting and evacuating residents when the tsunami warnings sounded.

Those who want to help can go to www.redcross.org and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. Gifts to the American Red Cross will support our disaster relief efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. On those rare occasions when donations exceed American Red Cross expenses for a specific crisis, contributions are used to prepare for and service victims of other crises.

In the coming weeks, the American Red Cross expects to make additional contributions to support the humanitarian response. Donations received from American Red Cross and other Red Cross partners will aid Japan’s relief and recovery efforts through the Japanese Red Cross and possibly other organizations as experts on the ground determine the best way forward. Donations received by the Japanese Red Cross from people within Japan will be pooled and managed by an independent grant disbursement committee, which will include the Japanese Red Cross. The grants will be disbursed in installments in order to responsibly and effectively respond to the country’s evolving relief and recovery needs.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

— The American Red Cross today announced an initial contribution of $10 million to the Japanese Red Cross Society to assist in its ongoing efforts to provide medical care and relief assistance to the people of Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

American Red Cross Responds to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami

Residents survey the devastation from a tsunami wave at Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 The American Red Cross stands ready and willing to assist following  a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami that affected other countries in the Pacific region.

The Japanese Red Cross Society has extraordinary disaster response capabilities, and has mobilized eleven teams to heavily-damaged communities to provide assessments and first aid and prepare to supply emotional support and relief. The American Red Cross is in communication through its global partners with the Pacific nations that sustained the most damage, and stands ready to provide assistance as needed. To date, the Red Cross has not received any requests for blood from the Japanese Red Cross, the Japanese government or the United States State Department.

With potential danger headed to the west coast of the United States, Red Cross chapters are on alert and stand ready to provide assistance as needed in their communities in coordination with local and federal response partners. Red Cross warehouses in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands), California, Washington and Hawaii are mobilizing resources; and approximately 100 mobile feeding vehicles are on standby. Evacuation shelters are open with additional locations on standby in Oregon, Washington and California.

The Red Cross does not collect blood in Hawaii but has reached out to other blood collection agencies to offer services and is on standby to support any blood needs across the mainland as well.

 The best way to contact or locate U.S. citizens living or traveling in Japan is to contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747 or (202) 647-5225. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has offered to assist Japan with restoring family links.

In addition, with ongoing evacuations in the United States, the Red Cross Safe and Well website is a secure and easy-to-use online tool that helps families connect during emergencies like tsunamis. There are several easy ways to register yourself or search for a loved one on the Safe and Well website: from a computer, visit www.redcross.org, from a smartphone visit www.redcross.org/safeandwell or from any phone, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for help registering.

 Those who want to help can go to www.redcross.org and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific.

 About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

 

Disaster Alert: Earthquake in Japan, Tsunami Warnings

Disaster Alert Update 1:54 PM – Our hearts go out to the people of Japan and the other survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. Right now, we are in discussions with the Japanese Red Cross to assess their needs and see how we can help. The Japanese Red Cross has extraordinary disaster response capabilities. They have been operating since 1887, and they run multiple hospitals and blood collection services across the country.

Eleven Japanese response teams are currently assessing damage and supplying first aid in the affected region. In addition, the Japanese government has mobilized an emergency response, deploying 900 rescue workers to this area.

The American Red Cross has a warehouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, fully stocked with pre-positioned relief supplies for 5,000 families, and it has disaster specialists on stand by. These supplies can be used for people in U.S. territories or other Pacific nations.

Domestic Update:
American Red Cross chapters in the pacific islands of Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands and Guam as well as those on the west coast of the U.S. are on alert and ready to provide assistance as needed.

In Hawaii, evacuation centers (not managed by the Red Cross) were set up for people who left their homes. These centers provide a safe place outside of the evacuation zone for residents to gather, access a restroom and drinking water. The Hawaii Red Cross is staging cots and blankets across the islands in case shelters are needed.

Evacuation shelters are open with additional locations on standby in Oregon, Washington and California. The Red Cross is working closely with state officials in Hawaii and West Coast Emergency Operations Centers around activities such as sheltering and feeding.

Approximately 100 Red Cross mobile feeding vehicles are on standby.

Red Cross disaster supply warehouses in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands), California, Washington and Hawaii are activated in case relief supplies are needed. We’re mobilizing resources as necessary and are coordinating with FEMA and state Emergency Operation Centers.

See our post on finding information about family members affected by the earthquake.

Update 1:24 PM – The American Red Cross has created a designation for our disaster relief efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. If you wish to give, please visit http://american.redcross.org/rcchatnews.

Donations can also be made to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief by texting REDCROSS to 90999 for a $10 donation.

Update 11:45 AM – The American Red Cross is prepared to respond to any domestic or Japanese request for blood as a result of the earthquake in Japan and the Pacific Tsunami.

The American Red Cross will ship blood products outside of the United States (adhering to appropriate regulatory guidelines), following a specific request from the Japanese government or the Japanese Red Cross.

To date, the American Red Cross has not received any requests for blood from the Japanese Red Cross, the Japanese government or the U.S. State Department.

At this time, we are not collecting blood from individuals in America to go to Japan and we do not anticipate the need for a general blood donor appeal to support our preparedness efforts. Should the need arise, the American Red Cross will do everything it can to assist Japan with their request.

As always, blood donors in the United States are encouraged to call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit us online at redcrossblood.org to make an appointment to give blood. Your blood donation will become part of the nation’s blood supply and will help ensure that we are prepared for any blood needs that arise here at home or wherever blood is needed.

Japan – A series of major earthquakes struck off the coast of Japan at around 2:46 pm JST on March 11. One of the earthquakes measured 8.9 in magnitude. Tsunami warnings, watches, and advisories are in effect in multiple locations.