My Hurricane Isaac deployment…

My name is Barbara Behling, the Chapter’s Communications Officer and I recently returned from my Hurricane Isaac deployment. On August 28, 2012 Isaac caused great damage and destruction: he also re-energized and mobilized communities.

With much anticipation, Isaac garnered strength while sitting in the Gulf Coast deciding if he would hit Tampa during the Republican National Convention or shift west and hit New Orleans, ironically on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Both presented logistical and emotional challenges. The story you may not have heard is that a few hours north of Louisiana, small inland towns such as Madisonville, Slidell and Baton Rouge were inundated with rain; up-to 16.5 inches fell in the same area in under 24-hours. For these small towns, this was much worse than Hurricane Katrina!

I learned of one lady whose house was filling fast with rain water. Afraid she and the children would drown inside, she perched her two children to her hips, their arms tightly around her neck. She started wading through the main street of town. Unbeknown to her, the man-hole covers blew-off due to the force of water. Within an instant, three lives were lost.

The forceful winds, torrential rain, flash flooding and threatening tornadoes were what Mother Nature handed us. What we gave back was just as powerful. The Red Cross mobilized 4,800 trained responders, each with a specific goal to help people. Each armed with skills, training and more compassion than you can ever know, we put our talents to work. We opened nearly 100 shelters, each a respite for those tired, hungry and emotionally drained. We partnered with groups such as the Southern Baptists, while they can cook from scratch hundreds of thousands of meals a day, they don’t have deliver vehicles. We do. In fact five Emergency Response Vehicles around Wisconsin were active in community feeding and outreach activities. Yes, our local volunteers drove our custom made vehicles, each with Wisconsin license plates to Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. From each, our teams loaded, hauled and distributed meals at local community centers, shelters, schools, churches and throughout neighborhoods. You see when the Red Cross vehicle is coming down your street, you not only receive a hot meal, cold water and snacks, you are met with a Midwest smile. As one driver stated, “sometimes it’s not just about serving the food, you just have to stop and give them a hug too.”

Damage assessment worker marking the damage to this Louisiana home.

As our damage assessment, health services, emotional health professionals and folks like myself travel down impacted roads we meet people like George Moore, whose home was severely damaged. With the dignity and pride of serving his country, he adjusted his military hat and jacket and went to work cleaning-up. “I have survived everything, hurricanes, typhoons and serving in the military during WWII. Red Cross was there for me in 1945 and they are here for me today.”  With George’s physical challenges, it was if he mustered the strength to stand at attention when neighbors and people he never knew walked into his yard and began picking up the pieces. While we handed each ‘George’ we met free cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items, our gift is so much larger. It’s the people who stand behind us to make this happen. Whether you are deployed, supporting our Chapters at home or making an in-kind or financial gift, you were there too.

Each time I’m deployed, certain names and moments are forever engrained in my memory. I first talked with Tammy Morris, from the Madisonville, LA church. She called and asked if I could drive down to support their community outreach day.  When I said, “sure” I could hear her strong voice drop to a cracking, soft-spoken “the Red Cross is always here for us.”  I left my lodging before 6:00a.m on a Saturday. When our eyes met, we instantly hugged. She shared with my team the plan for the day. Nearly 40 community groups were gathering at the church and at the ball field by 9:00a.m.  Each group would be assigned jobs to help their community recover. Right on time, and if on cue, three American Red Cross box trucks arrived. Two hauled pre-packaged clean-up kits and water neatly stacked on pallets, one had bulk items such as shovels, racks, gloves, coolers, and more. Then as if on cue again, the doors flew open and dozens of kids in matching shirts formed an assembly line to unload the trucks. Another team stacked the materials in the church. As the disaster victims, arrived at the church, they were greeted with yet another team that carried the materials to their cars. In some cases, groups followed the resident home and began the process of bailing out water, ripping-out carpet, tearing down drywall and more.

Still back at the church, another team was serving hot meals, delivered by a fourth Red Cross vehicle. Each person was given a hot meal, water, sports drinks and snacks. People also stopped at this point, to sit, to share their story with our trained personnel. You see, part of the healing process is sharing your story. We had licensed mental health professionals ready to listen. We had nurses administering first aid to those with small injuries so it wouldn’t be a larger problem later. We also started ‘client case work’ which is a way to help the resident identify their next steps, determine if they have the resources to recovery, we listened and guided them into recovery.

So I could have a lasting reminder of Tammy, Madisonville and Isaac, I asked if Tammy would record a short message. She obliged. I’ll cherish her kindness, her ability to rally a community, and her sweet hug.

To view additional pictures from Hurricane Isaac click HERE.

Alario Kitchen story (Southern Baptist partnership)

by Tom Breister & Virginia Hart

Dennis Nagan overseeing Kitchen #5. by Tom Breister

As he has done many times before during disasters, American Red Cross volunteer Dennis Nagan from Appleton, Wisconsin, is preparing to transport meals to disaster-affected clients.

Meals are prepared by the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Kitchen #5 at the Alario Center in Westwego, LA. Food is then stored in large cambros (insulated containers that keep the food piping hot) and American Red Cross workers load them into the back of American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV). ERV’s are then dispatched to different neighborhoods that are desperately in need of hot meals and water. Each ERV can serve over 600 hot meals, plus water and snacks, each time it is dispatched. Depending on need, the ERV’s can service up to 5 routes per day.

ERV drivers are specially trained in Red Cross Chapters across the nation. During a disaster, ERV’s from all over the United States, driven by Red Cross volunteers, mobilize to help feed communities devastated by disaster. The hometown and state of each ERV is imprinted on the side of the vehicle.

Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief often partners with the American Red Cross to provide hot meals immediately following a disaster. They are expert in preparing mass amounts of food. Their state of the art food preparation vehicle costs $450,000. Several of these vehicles can be deployed following a major disaster. Southern Baptist manager Jack Sellers said his organization can produce up to 25,000 meals per day at that one kitchen.

Even though he has been deployed as an ERV coordinator in several past disasters, Nagan laughs and says that he always says “but this one is the best.” “The partnership between the Red Cross and the Southern Baptists is critical in delivering services after a disaster,” Nagan said.

Southern Baptist volunteers prepping meals. photo by Mar Tobiason

Emergency Response Vehicle Sent to Gulf Coast

By: Kris Schuller:  wearegreenbay.com – Click HERE for video of story.

GREEN BAY, WI (WFRV)  Wisconsin workers and volunteers are already heading south to help with storm damage from Tropical Storm Isaac.

The American Red Cross is busy  preparing  its response to the damage Isaac is expected to bring to the northern gulf coast. Fifteen-hundred disaster workers have been deployed to the area, ten of which are from Northeast Wisconsin. Monday evening – one of those volunteers left Green Bay, on a 16-hour drive to New Orleans.

As Tropical Storm Isaac races  toward the northern gulf coast, slowly growing in intensity, Dennis Nagan prepares for a 1-thousand mile trip, to deliver an emergency response vehicle, for use at  shelters in New Orleans.

“I’m  nervous, excited, got the call this morning, ” said Nagan. “It happened fast and we’re getting ready to go.”

So far Isaac has brought heavy rain, power outages and flooding to Florida. But with storm surges expected to reach 12-feet along the northern gulf coastline, many more may find themselves displaced. The mission of the vehicle is to aid in the distribution of food to disaster victims.

“We can take it to areas affected, so as people clean their homes they can get a little comfort, said Jody Weyers of the Lakeland Chapter of the American Red Cross in Green Bay.

The  emergency response vehicle is one of 150 such vehicles, owned by the National Red Cross and stored at local chapters across the country. With Tropical Storm Isaac expected to intensify in the coming days, a call came in from the national office this afternoon – requesting this vehicle be sent a.s.a.p.

“You are right out in front with people who really need the food, goods and supplies the Red Cross provides and I take it seriously, it’s an honor to do it.” said Nagan.

With 42 shelters currently in operation in Florida and evacuations ordered in low lying areas of Louisiana, the Red Cross expects more shelters will be opening soon. And by early tomorrow Nagan will be in the middle of it all, driving a vehicle which brings hope, by helping feed the hungry.

“Hopefully we won’t be needed, But if so, we’ll be there.”

Depending on the damage suffered, Nagan could be away from his family in Appleton for up to three weeks.

Red Cross Responds to Southern Spring Storms and Rising Red River in North Dakota

Red Cross Disaster efforts span 13 states in just the past week

Dempsey Brady and his family gathered in the hallway as the storms from Monday night ripped through the Ellisville, MS area. They were safely in the hallway when the storm tore the roof off of their home. They were very thankful for the Red Cross visiting with them to meet their immediate emergency needs.

Today, the American Red Cross is responding across the South after severe spring storms affected hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina. At the same time, Red Cross disaster workers are on the ground in North Dakota and Minnesota as the Red River continues to rise. In fact, since late March, the Red Cross has played a role in 14 disaster events in 13 states across the nation.

“Red Cross workers are helping people across the South whose homes were damaged by the recent storms, or who have no power to stay warm or cook meals for their family,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president, Red Cross Disaster Services. “At the same time we have trained workers and relief supplies in place in North Dakota and Minnesota, supporting the local volunteers who are fighting to protect their neighborhoods from the rising Red River.”

Wild spring storms damaged homes, downed trees and cut out power overnight in many areas of the South. Red Cross chapters opened shelters to offer people a safe place to stay and deployed disaster teams and response vehicles throughout the damaged communities. Red Cross workers are feeding emergency responders and people affected by the storms, and distributing items to help residents clean up the storm damage.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross has set up headquarters in Fargo, North Dakota to provide meals and mental emotional support as the Red River threatens to overflow its banks. More than 50 Red Cross disaster workers are either on the ground already, or en route to the Red River Valley. Ten Red Cross emergency vehicles have been deployed to the area to help with mobile feeding and distribution of clean-up items and basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap. The Red Cross has already served more than 157,000 meals in support of sandbagging efforts.

April’s severe weather has kept Red Cross disaster workers busy. This latest disaster response comes on the heels of the Red Cross assisting people in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and Texas where wildfires burned thousands of acres, destroyed homes and forced people to evacuate from their neighborhoods. The Red Cross opened shelters for those who had to leave their homes and provided food and refreshments for emergency responders.

Red Cross disaster workers were also on the scene in Florida after tornadoes, thunderstorms, high winds and flooding damaged homes and left thousands without power. Red Cross chapters throughout the state responded, opening shelters, providing food and drinks for emergency responders, and deploying emergency vehicles to distribute clean-up items to those affected by the storms.

The American Red Cross responds to as many as 200 disasters a day in the United States. This assistance helps people affected by larger emergencies such as the severe weather occurring across the country, or a family whose home is destroyed by fire. The Red Cross also continues to help the people of Japan and support the residents of Haiti. If you would like to help, you can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS, or text REDCROSS to 90999. You can also mail your contribution to your local chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.       

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.