Fond du Lac flooding victims reflect on a memorable Red Cross experience

By Nicole Sandler, American Red Cross

As Red Cross staff and volunteers, we often report on how we help those in need at the time disaster strikes. There is a lot of outside attention “in the moment” of a disaster, even though the work continues for days and weeks after. To provide a more in-depth look at what relief and recovery means to those we’ve served, we had a conversation recently with one Wisconsin family impacted by sudden ice jam flooding in mid-March.

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Lisa Frank, right, and her daughter Amanda pose with a Donald Driver bobblehead, among the handful of keepsakes they were able to grab when evacuating their flooded apartment complex. (Photo: Wendy Rociles, American Red Cross)

Lisa Frank and her adult daughter Amanda were in the bullseye of the spring flooding in Fond du Lac. With their apartment building in danger of rapidly rising water, they reacted to the call of local firefighters to evacuate immediately. Given 10 minutes to grab whatever belongings they most needed, Lisa scrambled around her third floor apartment while Amanda attended to her apartment one floor below.

Within the time allotted they each emerged with a few necessities, including critical medications, a change of clothing, and some items of sentimental value. They made the difficult decision to leave their cats behind, but only after the firefighters assisting with the evacuation made a solemn promise that the cats would remain safe.

Once helped across the flooding parking lot and onto the buses waiting for them, Lisa was able to finally breathe. As her bus pulled out she had a view of the nearby football field and realized it had become a “giant swimming pool.”

“I had never seen anything like this,” she recounted. “ I really thought the world was ending.”

The buses took Lisa, Amanda and others from their apartment building to the nearby community church where Red Cross volunteers had set up shelter. There, the Franks were offered cots for sleeping, snacks, and meals throughout their stay – including a delicious homemade breakfast cooked the next morning by congregants of the church.

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Ice jams were the main culprit in March 2019 flooding that hit homes and families in towns including Waubeka, above, as well as Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Arcadia. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa admits that she didn’t expect to get much sleep given the overwhelming morning as well as medical conditions that caused her discomfort. But by evening, she “curled up on the cot and slept like a million bucks.”

In describing their experience while at the shelter, Lisa remarked that from the moment they arrived, “everything was handled perfectly; so perfectly, it felt like it was a drill.” She believes the quality of support and compassion extended by everyone she met is what helped she and Amanda get through the experience.


The Red Cross works with families in the days and weeks after a disaster to make sure they’ve connected with any resources available to them during the intensive recovery process. If you’d like to get involved in the response or recovery efforts with your neighbors in need, please consider joining the Red Cross as a volunteer. Take that first step by clicking here.


 

Of biggest concern to Lisa were the medications she needed to control her chronic conditions. She suffers from congestive heart failure, as well as painful rheumatoid arthritis requiring the aid of a walker. While she grabbed her medications from her apartment before evacuating, she had additional prescriptions that were due for a refill. She explained this to the Red Cross volunteers who greeted her upon arrival at the shelter and immediately set about assessing her needs.

“One of the volunteers went out to the pharmacy and picked up a prescription I needed that very day; without it I wouldn’t have been able to function,” said Lisa. “Yet next thing I knew she showed up and handed me the bag with my medication. I don’t know who she is, but I’m still so grateful for what she did.”

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Volunteer Dennis Hildebrand, right, chats with Michele Whittington and her son, Zyler, during their stay at a shelter in Green Bay during March floods. (Photo: Justin Kern, American Red Cross)

Lisa shared that her daughter, Amanda, is autistic and suffers from epilepsy and ADHD, which can make traumatic experiences especially challenging. Yet the kindness with which she was treated while in shelter again had a profound effect on Lisa. Thanks to the volunteers’ way of talking to and engaging with Amanda, Lisa felt a sense of pride in how well Amanda acclimated to the situation.

“The amount of kindness the Red Cross showed us is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Lisa. “It was my first time working with the Red Cross, and everyone was simply incredible.”

In total during March flooding, 106 Red Cross volunteers worked with partners to open four shelters, one reception center and one multi-agency resource center; provided comfort and respite for more than 140 people; served more than 1,200 meals and distributed approximately 720 clean-up kits.

The day after the flooding in Fond du Lac, the Franks were cleared to return to their apartments – which included their grateful cats. Their apartments were spared any water damage, although their car, which was parked outside, was deemed a total loss due to water damage. Lisa is currently working to save up enough money to purchase a replacement car. Aside from that inconvenience, life has essentially returned to normal for the Frank family.

When asked to sum up her flooding experience, Lisa says that without the help and support of the Red Cross, she and her daughter could never have handled it as well as they did. She pointed out, with a laugh, that between the bus ride to and from the shelter, the lodging, the meals, and the opportunity to meet others, the experience felt almost like a “vacation” – although a “weird, surreal and unplanned vacation!”

Amanda has a slightly different take on the experience: “It was like a vacation you did not want to take!” Yet both mother and daughter are grateful for all the ways in which the Red Cross helped them navigate a difficult situation.

Sudden spring thaw brings flooding, shelters and signs of hope

By Wendy Rociles – American Red Cross

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Fond du Lac crews worked feverishly March 14 to break up ice jams on rivers caused by an sudden temperature spike.

When Jennifer Pena put her five kids to bed in her Fond du Lac apartment on Wednesday, it was just like any other night. The way they woke up Thursday was anything but.

A sudden spring thaw broke up sometimes car-sized sheets of winter ice along the Fond du Lac River, causing an “ice jam” and river overruns into streets, homes and Pena’s apartment building. Her family awoke to emergency officials on A.T.V.s, pounding on doors and evacuating everyone from the building. Pena’s family, in their pajamas and lugging a box of the essentials, plus a few toys for the kids, were among the dozens of people at an American Red Cross reception center and later a shelter set up in Fond du Lac, one of many such sites set up in Wisconsin during this week’s flooding disasters.

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Jennifer Pena, right, and her daughter Rosalina Robinson color Thursday at an American Red Cross reception center.

Pena and one of her daughters, Rosalina Robinson, colored Thursday afternoon as the mother talked through the paces that brought her from a normal weekday to emergency sheltering.

“It’s been a long morning,” she said. “Right now, with our house, there’s no way to go back inside.”

As of Saturday, March 16, more than 150 people in Wisconsin received care, sheltering, food and other resources from Red Cross volunteers and staff at shelters or sites including Arcadia, Fond du Lac, Lodi, Prairie du Sac, Green Bay and Stevens Point. After a harsh, protracted winter, spring seemed to come overnight in the Badger State. Even so, Red Cross volunteers were able to set up sheltering with partners, provide support for reception centers and distribute clean up kits to emergency managers.


For the latest on statewide shelters and resources, dial 2-1-1. You can find shelter updates, ways to connect with displaced family members, and safety and preparedness tips by downloading the free American Red Cross emergency app.


 

As people processed their ordeal and what may be ahead in the coming days, Karen Leveque was contemplative about her experience. Like many, she recalled a different round of flooding, more than 10 years ago and along this same river in Fond du Lac.

“I’m doing it all again,” Leveque said.

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South and Oak Streets in Fond du Lac were overrun by the nearby river, displaced dozens of people.

As another family, Lisa and Amanda Frank, were informed that they needed to evacuate their apartments early this same morning, they grabbed important things, like medications and identification. They were also able to grab a few smaller items of sentimental value, just in case they couldn’t get back to the apartment soon.

Keeping her upbeat spirit – hope for the best in the early hours of an unknown weather situation – Lisa pointed to a small, sealed container they were able to carry with them out of the flooded apartment building.

“We even brought our dog (ashes) with us!”

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Volunteers from the Wisconsin Red Cross set up a shelter at partner Community Church on Thursday in Fond du Lac. 

By Saturday evening, just about two dozen people remained displaced at shelters in Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Arcadia. Receding waters enabled the Jennifer Pena’s family to return home, as well as Amanda and Lisa Frank. On Twitter, Amanda Frank wrote: “I also want to thank the @RedCrossWIS and Fond du Lac Community Chuch @ccfdl for all they did to make us feel at home. While I wouldn’t want to experience this again, the experience itself was good. You guys had everything we could have asked and hoped for. #ThankYouGreatly

You can always show your support to the Red Cross in three ways: joining as a volunteer; sharing your financial generosity; and giving the gift of blood.

“It’s been a rough year”: Compassion and help for residents besieged by storms

Stories and photo by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Rhonda Pfaff hadn’t finished cleaning out her home, garage and yard from the first flood when the nearby Baraboo River started to rise again.

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Rhonda Pfaff shares an embrace with Cindy Brown, Red Cross volunteer.

By the time a second August flood submerged her neighborhood in Elroy, Pfaff wondered if the deluge and damage weren’t “the last straw” for her home and others on the street, some already cordoned off with caution tape. Pfaff had moved to the home formerly owned by her great-aunt to care for her beloved father, Gaylord (“I was his shadow”). He passed away in March and much of the rehab work they did – wood work, flooring, landscaping – were left awash and stripped from their single-story, cream colored ranch-style home.

“It’s been a rough year,” Pfaff said, soon after a hug with Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown. “All we have left from the basement are some dishes. You know what? We’re alive. We have our health.”

Pfaff reflected on the destruction in her small Wisconsin town and others across the state hit with record rainfalls, overburdened rivers and more than a dozen tornadoes from mid-August to early September. Red Cross volunteers Cindy Brown and Fayth Harrison went door to door on September 6th in Elroy, its small-town Americana now buttressed with entire living rooms, bedrooms, vehicles and basement possessions on the front curb for disposal.

Harrison and Brown brought Pfaff Red Cross assistance and information on various recovery resources. To Pfaff’s relief, they also brought open hearts.

“You have brightened my day. I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Pfaff said.

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The scene on one Elroy, Wisconsin street in early September.

As grim as the scene in her neighborhood, Pfaff was appreciative that her family was unharmed and had a place to go, in her former home across town. Pfaff’s ex-husband and his family came by to clear out trash and debris. She teased her son, who had been living at her house along with his fiancée, that he was excused from yard maintenance after flood waters carried a metal yard roller hundreds of yards from their property into a marsh.

Pfaff held remarkable humor and warmth as she talked with Red Cross disaster workers, even while she pointed to the high-water mark on the outside of the home that lined up well into her living room.

“I have to laugh because if I cry I’ll fill up that river so damn fast,” Pfaff said.

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Reedsburg, another hard hit town, continues to deal with standing water from August storms.

Including their time with Pfaff, Brown and Harrison made the rounds with multiple families Thursday in Elroy. Days into a deployment in their own state, the two volunteers they were flagged down on this day by one person in a passing truck, alerted to another person in need of assistance who was working the lunch shift at her downtown diner. Hundreds of residents across the state have received assistance, clean-up supplies, meals and more from Red Cross during response and recovery, now at more than three weeks.

Red Cross continues to reach out to residents across the state in need after these devastating late summer storms, tornadoes and floods. To connect with Red Cross recovery resources, call 888-700-7051 and leave your information. A disaster recovery specialist will call you back as soon as possible.

From an ATV in a soybean field to a Red Cross shelter: one woman’s rescue story during record-breaking storms

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

At first, Janice Huizenga thought she was hunkering down for another summer evening thunderstorm. Janice said she would occasionally peek out of the window of her home in Alto, in Fond du Lac County, on Tuesday as the wind whipped up and the rain started to fall.

Then, a sense of chaos, as the 84-year old saw downed trees, followed by concern, as the power went out at her house and throughout the neighborhood. Janice needed power for medical supplies and to keep an emergency bracelet charged.

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Janice Huizenga, left, shares her rescue story with Red Cross volunteers, including MaryKay Bishop.

With the storm raging around her home – the same storm that dropped more than a dozen tornadoes and flooded numerous rivers across the state – Janice’s adult children, all without power for the night, located a Red Cross shelter with power and notified local fire officials about their mother’s situation and location. Meanwhile, Janice said tornado sirens blared for a third time that night, something she said she’s never heard.

Janice’s home was now surrounded by broken trees, live wires and rain-soaked earth, so firefighters drove an ATV through a soybean field to reach her backyard. Then, she was brought along a meandering path of barely passable roads to a Red Cross shelter at Brandon High School, one town over.

“I was shocked when the tree was down [in my yard] and the roots were out,” said Janice on Wednesday, next to her cot at the shelter. “Then I saw the power line in the tree and wires pulled out of my house. Then, telephone posts were down and you never see that. Down the street, there were more posts down.”

Janice was one of dozens of people to spend a night or more at eight shelters that have been set up since August 20 by the Red Cross as part of monumental storms that have overflowed rivers and damaged homes and property from Prairie du Chien and La Crosse eastward to Coon Valley, Madison, Waupun and Cedarburg. One fatality has been reported so far in association with the storms, which have included record rainfall, numerous tornadoes and emergency declarations.

Three Red Cross shelters remained open as of August 31 and recovery efforts like clean-up kit distribution and sandbagging were in place as the state braced for more rains in the forecast through Labor Day weekend. (For updates on shelters, dial 2-1-1 or follow the Wisconsin Red Cross Facebook and Twitter pages.)

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A cornfield ravaged by August storms outside of Waupun, Wisconsin.

Back in Brandon, Janice recounted her scary evening with Red Cross volunteers, included MaryKay Bishop. The two bonded during the morning with stories of the storm, but also of family. After one night at the shelter – one of the few places with power anywhere close to her home – Janice had connected with her daughter who had planned to navigate roads still under the aftermath of the storms to take in her mother until power and safety were restored in Alto.

Janice was grateful for the night at the shelter, in the basketball court of Brandon H.S. She had slept some and talked with volunteers about plans for a group lunch.

Pondering the power of the devastating storms across Wisconsin, and of the wide-ranging recovery to come for herself and thousands of other residents, Janice said she felt humbled by a higher power at play.

“Man thinks they can do a lot, but nobody can do what God did with this wind,” she said.

To offer your support to people like Janice impacted by the Wisconsin storms and floods, click here to find out how to volunteer, donate or give blood.

“I’ve Never Been So Scared”: Early Reflections on Dane County Flooding

Story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross; Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

“Now I know what it’s like to be in a hurricane.”

Ashley Repp from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, recounted her harrowing rescue while visiting her neighbor in the local Red Cross shelter at Mazomanie Elementary School.

 

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A mother and daughter watch flood waters consume streets near their home on Tuesday in Mazomanie.

“I was absolutely terrified. The water was rushing in so fast!,” Repp shared.

Repp and her neighbors were rescued early Tuesday morning when heavy rains sent a flash flood crashing through her town of Mazomanie, and the surrounding communities of Cross Plains and parts of the Madison area.

“The rains started Monday, but by early Tuesday, I saw the streets starting to flood. I came outside about 5:30 in the morning and the waters were already rising. I looked across the street to the apartment building that sits a bit lower and saw the bottom floors under water.”

Ashley stopped momentarily to share the pictures she took. The sight showed a small town under a deluge. A record-breaking rainfall on Sunday and Monday swelled rivers, overran into backyards, submerged cars, basements, businesses.

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Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown, right, assists a client at a shelter at Madison West H.S. on Friday morning. 

Red Cross opened shelters in Mazomanie (314 Anne St.) and Madison (at West H.S., 30 Ash St.), as well as Cross Plains (at Glacier Creek Middle School, since closed). Other resources include mobile and fixed distribution of clean-up kits across Dane County, and, with dozens of community partners and government agencies, multi-agency resource centers in Mazomanie (on Friday, 314 Anne St.) and Middleton (on Saturday at Blackhawk Church, 9620 Brader Way). (Additional updates are available here from Dane County Emergency Management.)

Back at the shelter in Mazomanie, Ashley continued her story. She said that within 20 mins, her stairwell was flooding. “Water came rushing in, and the fire department came by and told us to grab our stuff and get out. I don’t even remember much, except that the water was rushing in so fast-it was hard to stand and keep my balance. I’ve never been so scared in my life!”

The rescue workers assisted Ashley and her neighbors into rafts and then steadied it by walking it through the flood waters, and up to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) building.

“Folks from all over our community were there to give us clothing and dry out what we had been wearing, which was soaked.”

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On Thursday, a family in Mazomanie cleans up from initial flooding and places sandbags outside their house for the possibility of more water.

When asked how long all this took, Ashley’s face become very somber: “You know … I have no idea. Time just ran into itself … I have no idea at all.  It was about 7 that night before we got settled in. I thought it must be later than that, but … I don’t know.”

Her voice trailed off, she paused and then turned and said, “I’m just so thankful we all got out. Everyone here, the community, the Red Cross, everyone helped us feel safe. Folks offered clothes, food … the whole community pulled together to help all of us.”

When asked whether she would be staying here, at the Red Cross shelter, Ashley replied, “No, I’m lucky. I have a place to stay, but my neighbor doesn’t, so I’m glad you’re here to help her, I was worried.”

Ashley had come by the shelter to check in on her neighbor: “She’s being well cared for, thank you. Thank you, Mazomanie and thank you, Red Cross!”

Follow American Red Cross of Wisconsin on Twitter and Facebook for breaking updates on shelters and other resources. For access to resources for this ongoing flooding situation, dial 2-1-1.

Neenah Volunteer is Deployed to FL for Disaster Relief

By Lauren Lindstrom, Communications Intern, American Red Cross:

When disaster strikes, Harvey Lorenz is ready to take the call. The American Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin Chapter volunteer and Neenah, Wis., resident will deploy to Tallahassee, Fla. on June 29 to serve as a Financial and Statistical Supervisor for flooding cleanup efforts following Tropical Depression Debby.

This will be the eighth service deployment for Lorenz, who most recently traveled to Pennsylvania in September 2011 to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

For Lorenz, it is the pull of service and the quality of the organization that keeps him coming back. He wants to put his years of expertise in the financial industry to a good use.

“I like working with numbers, which is not a gift for everyone,” Lorenz said. “I feel like I can use my expertise here.”

“The Red Cross is fabulous,” he added. “It’s a great group to be a team member of.”

Harvey fills out paperwork in preparation for his deployment to Florida.

It is this group he will join to assist those suffering from the effects of Debby.“We do what we can to lighten their load and make their lives less traumatic,” he said.

The American Red Cross is providing critical help to thousands of people affected by massive flooding in Florida from Tropical Depression Debby.

Nearly 200 Red Cross disaster workers are helping in Florida, where 11 shelters were open overnight. Tropical Depression Debby has dumped as much as ten inches of rain on most of the state, with some areas getting up to 25 inches of rain. Truckloads of additional relief supplies are on the way to Florida and 20 response vehicles are ready to start distributing items to help as the cleanup begins there.

“Thousands have been impacted by these disasters and the Red Cross is giving them a safe place to stay, food to eat and a shoulder to lean on,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president, Red Cross Disaster Services. “We are expanding our efforts to help the growing number of people affected by the fires in the west and are ready to distribute the tools and other resources people will need to begin the cleanup in Florida as the flood waters recede.”

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243,Washington, DC 20013.

REGISTER ON SAFE AND WELL The Red Cross Safe and Well website is also available. People affected by the fires and flooding can access the site and let loved ones know where they are. There are several ways to register on Safe and Well, or search for a loved one. From a computer, visit redcross.org from a smart phone, visit www.redcross.org/safeandwell  or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to be connected with one’s local Red Cross chapter.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

Red Cross Helping Thousands Affected by Wildfires in the West, Flooding in Florida

Cheyenne Mountain High School Shelter, Colorado Springs, CO Photo Credit: Catherine Barde/American Red Cross

WASHINGTON, Wednesday, June 27, 2012 — The American Red Cross is providing critical help to thousands of people affected by the raging wildfires in the west and the massive flooding in Florida from Tropical Depression Debby.

Ten Red Cross shelters were open Tuesday night in Colorado, Utah and Montana where several wildfires are burning out of control. In Colorado, nearly 300 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting relief efforts where the fires are threatening as many as 20,000 homes.

Nearly 200 Red Cross disaster workers are helping in Florida, where 11 shelters were open overnight. Tropical Depression Debby has dumped as much as ten inches of rain on most of the state, with some areas getting up to 25 inches of rain. Truckloads of additional relief supplies are on the way to Florida and 20 response vehicles are ready to start distributing items to help as the clean-up begins there.

Red Cross workers have served more than 32,000 meals and snacks to people affected by the wildfires and flooding, have made almost 3,300 health and mental health contacts, and distributed more than 4,300 relief items.

“Thousands have been impacted by these disasters and the Red Cross is giving them a safe place to stay, food to eat and a shoulder to lean on,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president, Red Cross Disaster Services. “We are expanding our efforts to help the growing number of people affected by the fires in the west and are ready to distribute the tools and other resources people will need to begin the clean-up in Florida as the flood waters recede.”

HOW PEOPLE CAN HELP Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243,Washington, DC 20013.

HOW TO FIND RED CROSS SHELTERS People who have been forced to evacuate can find out where Red Cross shelters are open by going to www.redcross.org or accessing the free Red Cross phone app. Both are refreshed with updated information every 30 minutes. Residents can also monitor local media—radio, newspaper and television—to find out where local shelters are located.

REGISTER ON SAFE AND WELL The Red Cross Safe and Well website is also available. People affected by the fires and flooding can access the site and let loved ones know where they are. There are several ways to register on Safe and Well, or search for a loved one. From a computer, visit redcross.org; from a smart phone, visit www.redcross.org/safeandwell or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to be connected with one’s local Red Cross chapter.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.