Winter Ice Storms Cover Tennessee; Wisconsinites Respond

Kathy.Schuh.RiesWinter storms differ; yet, how the American Red Cross responds is the same by providing a safe place to stay, food to eat and a shoulder-to-lean. Five Wisconsinites flew south to support 31 shelters opened during the storm. We are honored Kathy Schuh-Ries, a mental health professional, shared her Tennessee Ice Storm deployment experience.

By: Kathy Schuh-Ries, American Red Cross Disaster Responder

On February 25th, I was deployed to Cookeville, Tennessee to assist with the winter ice storms. I arrived in Nashville, and then rode to Cookeville with another disaster volunteer. It was too late to go to headquarters so we checked into our hotel. The next morning we arrived at headquarters to learn that a series of FIVE winter storms have impacted the state of TN in the last two weeks.

The Cumberland Plateau are was hit especially hard with an inch of ice accumulation in some areas leading to downed trees, power lines/poles, etc. causing 100% electrical grid failures in rural counties.

Several shelters were opened in the Cumberland Plateau due to prolonged power outages. More than 30 fatalities had been reported in TN alone due to the winter weather. When I arrived, several thousand customers still were without power in Putnam, Overton, and Cumberland counties.

Most people seeking shelter have had functional needs. As a disaster mental health worker, I assisted in visiting the shelters and working as a liaison with other Red Cross workers. We worked with shelter staff, nurses, and caseworkers to meet the needs of the clients in the shelters and assist them in returning to their homes once the power was restored.

As mentioned earlier, many of the needs were functional. Needs varied from person to person. Some needed assistance in getting medication, others needed assistance from health care assistants, some just needed someone to listen, and share a cup of coffee.

Fallen trees, debris, lack of fuel were common needs.

Mid week, the Noro virus struck several shelters. Effected parties were isolated and the nurses assisted in caring for the sick. Shelters were sanitized and extensive hand washing was encouraged to stem the virus. Parts of our mission included caring for volunteers as well and assist in covering their shelter shifts.

On Sunday, I participated in an Integrated Care Team. The team is comprised of a nurse, a case worker and a mental health worker. We visited the home of a sibling who lost a brother to hypothermia. After meeting with the family, it was determined that assistance was needed for his burial. The Red Cross assisted since his death was directly related to the storm.

As power was restored, shelters were closed and volunteers were sent home.

Final reflection: 

  • I am always moved by the resilience of people impacted by these forces of nature.
  • My life is put back in perspective after deployment.
  • I love the interesting people I meet along the way. The former cook on Air force 1, the retired FBI agent, the 80 year old mother who could run circles around most of us.
  • While not being part of an organized religion, I find these experiences to be spiritual in their own right.

 

 

 

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!!