Tornado Damage Hits Close to Home to One Member of our Red Cross Family

Guest Blog Post: Rick Parks, American Red Cross of Northeast WI Boardmember and President & CEO of Society Insurance

While all of us involved with Red Cross feel a sense of loss and empathy when we see disasters like this occur sometimes we have a more personal connection that makes us feel even stronger about supporting an organization that helps others in their time of need.

My path to living and working in Wisconsin was a journey that started as I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana and then spent most of my early adult life beginning my career in Illinois.  Going back 15 years I would make a sales swing through Harrisburg, Illinois about every six weeks.  In spite of it being a small city a little off the beaten path it was a favorite of mine, because everyone you met there were “good people.”  To see that town utterly destroyed with such a loss of life was an emotional experience.  But this past week brought all of that even closer to home -literally.

I grew up in Clark County, Indiana. Henryville, which was essentially erased as a town, is about 15 miles from my family home. I played many high school basketball games at Henryville High School, as they were a conference rival.  The village of Marysville, Indiana was noted to be “gone,” and that little curve on the highway was only five miles from my hometown.  The community center that was destroyed there (along with every home in the village) had been the K-3 two-room school where many of my future high school classmates started their school experience.

Tornado Damage: Chelsea, Indiana

The even smaller village of Chelsea, Indiana, where four people lost their lives, was only four miles up Highway 62 from where I grew up. My late parents shifted their church affiliation to the now destroyed Baptist Church in Chelsea when a beloved pastor took a position there.With Facebook and other social media pepole like me who have made something of a journey of life can still keep up with those who were important in their past. Within a few hours you can account for your close friends and family and get the news on who lost what. The people of small towns like Harrisburg, Henryville, Marysville and Chelsea also take care of their own on an incredible scale.  Many familes will come together under the remaining roof they have and live as one while they rebuild. But even in small town America not everyone has that available to them.  Many people need the care that an organization like Red Cross can offer immediately after a disaster, but some will need ongoing assistance. Knowing that Red Cross can be there to help if needed gave me peace as these very personal disasters unfolded in the media and with contact from friends and family back in Illinois and Indiana.

My thanks to all of you for being a part of Red Cross. You make a difference in people’s lives.

Rick Parks

Tornado damage: Henryville, Indiana

Tornado Damage - Marysville, Indiana

Red Cross Launches Huge Tornado Relief Response

Shelters open in 11 states to help people in the path of the storms

The American Red Crosshas launched a large relief operation across 11 states to help people affected by yesterday’s devastating tornado outbreak in the South and Midwest. Weather experts reported as many as 95 confirmed tornadoes touched down, destroying communities from the Great Lakes to the Southeast.

Harrisburg, IL resident, Cindy Fark, receives a hug from a Red Cross Disaster volunteer, Ann Corbin after describing the tornado coming through her neighborhood. Photo Credit: Tammie Pech/American Red Cross

“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this week’s severe storms,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president, Disaster Services. “Our top priorities right now are making sure people have a safe place to stay, a warm meal and a shoulder to lean on as they begin to clean up their neighborhoods. The Red Cross is also working closely with our government and community partners to make sure everyone gets the help they need.”Friday night, the Red Cross opened or supported 22 shelters in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Across the affected states, trained Red Cross disaster workers are mobilizing to begin feeding operations and distribution of relief supplies. Red Cross health services and mental health workers also will be out in neighborhoods help people cope with what they’ve seen and experienced. And damage assessment teams will also help the Red Cross and our partners discover the full scope of the damage.

If someone would like to help people affected by disasters like tornadoes and floods, they can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

Locate a shelter. People can find Red Cross shelters by contacting local emergency officials, visiting, or calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). iPhone users can download a free Red Cross shelter view app from the app store.

Those affected can let loved ones know they are safe by registering on the secure Red Cross Safe and Well website, where they can also update their Facebook and Twitter status. If you don’t have computer access, you can also register by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Loved ones outside the disaster area can use Safe and Well to find information about loved ones in the affected areas by using a pre-disaster phone number or complete address. Smart phone users can visit and click on the “List Yourself as Safe and Well” or “Search for friends and family” link.

Follow safety steps. As people begin to deal with the aftermath of the tornadoes, the Red Cross reminds people they should return to their neighborhood only when officials say it is safe to do so. They should also:

  • Stay out of damaged buildings and immediately report any fallen power lines or broken gas lines to the utility companies.
  • Use flashlights, not candles when examining buildings. If someone smells gas or hears a hissing noise, they should open a window, get everyone out of the building immediately and call the gas company or fire department.

More tornado safety information is available on the Preparedness Section of the Red Cross website.

You can help people affected by disasters like floods and tornadoes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.