“I’m just thankful we’re safe”: Sun Prairie rallies around neighbors, shelter after tragic explosion

by Justin Kern, communications officer, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

The morning after an explosion up the street from her apartment, Patricia Friese paced the basketball court at the Sun Prairie High School, where she and her son waited for updates on their homes and city at a Red Cross shelter.

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Snacks and conversation at a Red Cross shelter in the Sun Prairie H.S. gymnasium, the morning after a tragic explosion.

Patricia’s phone had died and she knew family members would be worried. The sassy, silver-haired longtime Sun Prairie resident had the clothes on her back and no idea what might be left of her apartment, much less her cell phone charger. Turns out, volunteer Judy Giacomino had brought along a “handy dandy charger” that fit Patricia’s phone, enabling her to make a round of calls to family that ended with a similar sentiment: “I’m just thankful we’re safe.”

Patricia and David Friese were two of dozens of Sun Prairie residents evacuated and displaced by an explosion attributed to a ruptured natural gas line downtown on July 10. Within hours, quaint and quiet downtown Sun Prairie had been pulled into the national spotlight with shattered storefront windows, smoldering homes and businesses, and public mourning for a community paragon. The explosion claimed the life of Cory Barr, a father, volunteer fire captain and business owner, and injured two other firefighters. (More on supporting Barr’s family here; and one of the injured firefighters here.)

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Volunteer Judy Giacomino, left, talks with a local family who visited the Red Cross shelter with gifts of children’s books & toys.

Sections of downtown remained cordoned off for days as emergency officials took stock of the threats and damage. Sun Prairie High School graciously opened its doors to the community as the host of a Red Cross reception center that developed into a shelter by Tuesday night. Through Friday afternoon, when the last family was transitioned to temporary lodging elsewhere, the Red Cross shelter at Sun Prairie H.S. served 75 clients impacted by the explosion, including dozens of cots for sleep/rest, just shy of 600 meals and 1,387 snacks served, as well as connections to comfort kits, and health and mental health services. As shelter operations wrapped up that Friday, Red Cross and a handful of community partners organized a multi-agency resource center (MARC) to help streamline additional recovery efforts for residents.

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David Friese said he “didn’t know what we were coming home to” after a blast near his downtown apartment.

Among those at the shelter early Wednesday was David Friese, who has lived a floor away from his mother, Patricia, in the same downtown apartment building for the past seven years. David said the two of them and a friend were in Oneida when, unbeknownst to them, the explosion took place. Then, while his phone was still powered, he heard the news from his daughter and the family immediately made the two-hour drive back to Sun Prairie to an unknown situation.

“We didn’t know what we were coming home to, what we were … going to see. My daughter texted, she said, ‘Go to the high school, go to the Red Cross,’” he said.

Credit is due to the substantial and fast help rallied by community organizations and members around those impacted amid sad, uncertain circumstances. Local nonprofit Sunshine Place provided numerous meals and the Bank of Sun Prairie set up a disaster relief fund. Other remarkable partners at the shelter or MARC included Sun Prairie School District, Dane County Emergency Management, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, United Way, Salvation Army, Chase Lumber, Culver’s, Walmart, American Family Insurance, Mayor Paul Esser’s office, and local fire and law enforcement. That just touches on the every-day expressions of kindness from neighbors who stopped by the shelter to ask how to volunteer, to drop-off a case of water or children’s books, or to offer their therapy dogs.

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Joyce Dingman, left, and Barbara Huber, right, talk with a resident who was inspired to sign up as a fellow volunteer.

Back at the shelter on the first morning after the explosion, two Red Cross volunteers from Dane County with differing experience levels worked the entrance table. Joyce Dingman, at her first shelter, and Barbara Huber, a 15-year volunteer with multiple regional and national deployments, had fielded a morning of clients in need, media with requests and community members looking to give. During a lull over lunch, Dingman and Huber shared perspectives on the shelter.

“You think of the people that first night. But other people come in, they need assistance and they haven’t seen anyone yet,” Dingman remarked. “It’s great to be here [for them].”

Huber said that no two shelters are alike. Each night she’s volunteered at a Red Cross shelter, Huber said she comes home with thoughts on what went well and what could’ve been done differently. Above all, she shared with Dingman, volunteers and staff come together to provide a refuge for those in need, far and wide.

“It’s amazing how fast it comes together and we’re able to do all we can,” she said.

Fast, thorough responses to unexpected disasters like these are possible because of support and volunteering from people like you. Here are ways you can get involved in the Red Cross mission to help those in crisis. 

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Two States + Two Disasters = One Team

Mary Gagnon

Mary Gagnon

For six non-stop weeks, the Texas weather was dreadful. Residents were experiencing multiple tornadoes, large hail, heavy rainfall and flooding causing the dams to breach. More than 100 counties were affected by this treacherous weather. (Wisconsin only has 72-counties; so this was a massive area) American Red Cross chapters throughout Texas helped residents affected by opening 60 shelters, served more than 350,000 meals and snacks and engaged 2,300 trained Red Cross responders. Wisconsin provided 42 responders; this is the first-hand story of our own Mary Gagnon.

 

On June 15, the Red Cross asked my husband Dean and I to deploy to Houston, Texas to help with disaster relief. Both of us volunteer with the Red Cross and reside in Texas AND Wisconsin. We arrived on the 16th and were reminded immediately of the heat and humidity that sends us back north each spring.

After a week of providing shelter and food near Houston, we were reassigned to the Rio Grande Valley, near the tip of Texas. Coincidentally, this general area is where we live during the winter. And our ‘hometown’ Red Cross Chapter there became headquarters.Flooded road, Edinburg, TX

There were so many people with so few personal resources. Residents told us of flood waters three feet deep in their homes and side streets were impassable for days. When we found an unflooded driveway, we parked the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), which contained water, food and hygiene kits. There, we asked people to phone neighbors down the street to let them know we were there to help. Invariably, word travelled fast, and people lined-up to receive what they needed and wanted: hot food, bottled water, Clorox, shovels and mosquito repellant.

Cruz Roja at Edinburg shelter

When there were still items remaining in the ERV, which is a large ambulance sized vehicle so we could haul large amounts of supplies, we drove to a nearby street and started the process again.

Steve Stringer with Cruz Roja in Edinburg-2

The American Red Cross increased its staffing resources when Cruz Roja Mexicana (Mexican Red Cross) arrived. As the flooding decreased and people could get out of their homes, the Cruz Roja site provided necessary cleaning materials and, just as importantly, the ability to respond in Spanish to needs and stories provided by those flooded out of their homes. We felt fortunate to work with Cruz Roja! They understood the community needs; the difficulties of the weather and the support needed to bring back ‘normalcy’ to Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

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The following week, on our way back to the local Red Cross Chapter to re-fill our ERV with cases of water and clean-up materials, we stopped at a gas station. The search-and-distribute system of helping home owners during the recent Texas floods brought much-needed supplies directly to people considering the scorching 96 degree weather. This system created a need for us to get just a few minutes of rest. An ice cream bar and air conditioning altered my core temperature just enough to make getting back on the road OK. But it was the unexpected ‘coolness’ of hearing The Spinners singing on the store’s music system that recouped my energy! With only the bathroom mirror watching, I danced to ‘Rubber Band Man’ with all of my best ‘60s and 70s moves.

And Coolness was achieved.

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Upon returning to Wisconsin for the ‘summer’ they were deployed to Columbus, Wisconsin to open an evacuation center/shelter for people affected by the July 13th 90-mile per hour winds. Two (states) plus two (disasters) really can equal ONE RED CROSS. To begin your own Red Cross adventure, please check here for volunteer opportunities.

Red Cross Helping Oklahoma Tornado Victims With Shelter, Food, Relief Supplies

The American Red Cross is working around the clock to help people in Oklahoma after Monday’s devastating tornadoes with shelters, food, water and supplies, and more workers, supplies and equipment are moving into the area today.

“Our thoughts and sympathy are with all those impacted by these horrific tornadoes,” said Trevor Riggen, vice president of Disaster Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross. “Specialized Red Cross disaster teams are helping now and will be helping for weeks to come as people in Oklahoma recover from these storms.”
from twitter account of: @redcrossokc - Red Cross Oklahoma

from twitter account of: @redcrossokc – Red Cross Oklahoma

The Red Cross deployed almost 30 emergency response vehicles to distribute food and relief supplies and more are on alert. Two Southern Baptist Convention kitchens and kitchen support trailers will join the relief effort with the ability to serve tens of thousands of meals a day. Emergency aid stations will open where people can get food and snacks, mental health and health services and information about what help is available. The Red Cross is supporting first responders and working with local and state officials to make sure people get the help they need. Meanwhile, the Red Cross continues to provide shelter in Shawnee and other parts of the Oklahoma City area following storms over the weekend.

SAFE AND WELLThe Red Cross has several ways people can let loved ones know they are safe. They can register on the Red Cross Safe and Well website by visiting www.redcross.org and clicking on the “List Yourself or Search Registrants” link under “How to Get Help”. Those who can’t access a computer can call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) and a Red Cross operator can help them register. Disaster victims can also update their Facebook and Twitter status through the Safe and Well website or visit www.redcross.org/safeandwell on their smart phone and clickon the “List Yourself as Safe and Well” or “Search for friends and family” link.

DOWNLOAD TORNADO APP. If someone has the Red Cross tornado app on their mobile device, they can use the “I’m Safe” button to let loved ones know they are okay. The app can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Androidby searching for American Red Cross. It includes a high-pitched siren and tornado warning alert that signals when a NOAA tornado warning has been issued, as well as also an all-clear alert that lets users know when a tornado warning has expired or has been cancelled. Content is preloaded so users have access to critical information even without mobile connectivity, including locations of open Red Cross shelters and the one-touch “I’m Safe” messaging to let loved ones know they are okay through social media outlets. More than a million alerts were sent from the Red Cross tornado app with 340 separate tornado warning/watch notices on Sunday and Monday as tornadoes hit in Oklahoma and other states.

HOW TO HELPThose who would like to help people affected by disasters like tornadoes, floods and other crises can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. People can donate by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations help provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.

BLOOD SUPPLIESThe Red Cross stands ready to help meet the blood needs of patients in and around Oklahoma City if needed, and there is currently enough blood on the shelves to meet patient demands. The Red Cross is a secondary supplier of blood products to hospitals in the affected area in Oklahoma. People with type O negative blood are encouraged to give blood when they are able. All eligible blood donors can schedule an appointment to give in the days and weeks ahead by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or visiting www.redcrossblood.org to help ensure blood is available when people need it.

CORPORATIONS HELP The Red Cross is able to respond quickly when emergencies like this happen with the help of corporations who are members of the organization’s Annual Disaster Giving (ADGP) and Disaster Responder programs. Program members pledge donations on an ongoing basis to allow the Red Cross to pre-position supplies and be ready to take immediate action when disasters occur.

Current ADGP members are:

3M; Altria Group; Aon; AT&T; Bank of America; BNY Mellon; Briggs & Stratton Corporation; Caterpillar Inc.; CHS Foundation; Cisco Foundation; Citi Foundation; The Clorox Company; Community Safety Foundation funded by AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah Insurance Exchange; ConAgra Foods Foundation; Costco Wholesale Corporation; Darden Restaurants, Inc.; Dell Inc.; Discover; Disney; Dr Pepper Snapple Group; Edison International; FedEx Corporation; GE Foundation; Hewlett-Packard Company Foundation; The Home Depot Foundation; Humble Bundle; jcpenney; John Deere Foundation; Johnson Controls; Kimberly-Clark Corporation; Kraft Foods Group; Lowe’s Companies, Inc.; Medtronic; Meijer; Merck Co. Foundation; Mondelēz International; National Grid; Nationwide Insurance Foundation; Northrop Grumman; Optum; PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation; Southwest Airlines; Sprint; State Farm; State Street; Target; Texas Instruments; The TJX Companies, Inc.; UnitedHealthcare; University of Phoenix; UPS; US Airways; Walmart; WellPoint Foundation; Wells Fargo.

Disaster Responder members include:

American Express; AstraZeneca; AXA Foundation; Delta Air Lines; Farmers Insurance; Ford Motor Company; General Motors Foundation; H&R Block; Ingersoll Rand; Morgan Stanley; New Balance Foundation; Northwestern Mutual and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation; PuroClean; Ryder Charitable Foundation; Starbucks Coffee Company and Starbucks Foundation; Sunoco; Tyson Foods, Inc.; U.S. Bank; Western Union Foundation.

About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 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 visitredcross.orgor visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

Picking Up Pieces after Midwest Tornado Outbreak

The American Red Cross continues to help people across the Midwest after the weekend’s devastating tornadoes.

In Oklahoma alone, the Red Cross estimates that more than 600 homes were affected by this weekend’s tornadoes, including 87 homes that were destroyed and 49 sustaining major damage. Another area hit hard is Thurman, Iowa, where FEMA reports 75 percent of the town sustained damage.

Red Cross disaster teams are operating shelters, providing meals and distributing relief supplies throughout the affected communities. The Red Cross is also moving additional relief supplies into the tornado-stricken areas, including comfort kits, tarps, coolers, rakes and other cleanup supplies.

VOLUNTEERS LEAD DISASTER RESPONSE

Many of the Red Cross responders are volunteers. It was a busy weekend in Iowa as they helped in communities hit by the tornadoes, and also responded to large fires and other severe weather. The weekend began with volunteers helping people affected by a large apartment building fire in Des Moines. Tornadoes slammed into the Thurman and Creston areas Saturday. By Sunday morning, volunteers were on the scene supporting firefighters responding to a multiple business fire in Titonka.

After the tornadoes struck in Thurman and Creston, volunteers opened two shelters, activated three mobile feeding trucks, and began damage assessment. Red Cross volunteers served more than 1,650 meals and snacks Sunday and provided emotional support for clients.

Red Cross volunteers also responded to severe weather damage in Sioux City, Des Moines, Knoxville, Council Bluffs and Keokuk County. Most of the cases reported were wind and tree damage to homes. In Titonka, volunteers served 250 meals to firefighters battling a multi-business fire. 

“There were a significant number of disaster-related incidents this weekend which affected many people’s lives here in Iowa,” said Leslie Schaffer, Red Cross spokesperson. “Our volunteers have really worked tirelessly to make sure people had a safe place to stay, food to eat and help getting their lives back on track. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the storms and fires this weekend, not only here but across the country.”

SAFETY STEPS

The Red Cross reminds people who live in the tornado-damaged areas that they should stay out of damaged buildings. Other safety steps include:

  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and sturdy shoes when examining homes for damage.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  • Use battery-­powered flashlights when examining buildings—do NOT use candles.
  • If someone notices a gas smell or hears a hissing noise, they should open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. They should also call the gas company or fire department.
  • Keep animals under control.
  • Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard.

HOW TO HELP

People can help those affected by disasters like these tornadoes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Consider making a donation today by visiting www.redcross.org, 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 someone’s local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Contributions enable the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters.

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.

Waupaca one of hardest hit areas during snow storm

WAUPACA, Wis. (WFRV) Reported by: Heather Sawaski – Crews vowed to work through the night Wednesday to try and restore power to everyone in the Waupaca-area. Slowly but surely, the lights were coming back on.

It was all smiles from customers at the Mobile Truck Stop off Highway 10 late Wednesday afternoon. But just minutes earlier, everyone was in the dark. The 24-hour restaurant was without power for more than four hours. But that didn’t mean the owners closed up shop.

“We’ve prided ourselves for the last 37 years of staying open and giving travelers a place to stop and gain their wits,” Manager Steve Klismet explained.

They weren’t able to cook or sell food, but employees manned the gas station next door and handed out snacks and bottled drinks.

“We pulled our service trucks up and shined our lights in the building so we could see what’s going on,” said Klismit. “And people could see there was activity going. So people were pulling in off the road.”

The rest of the city didn’t escape Mother Nature. At one time, WPS reported more than 6,000 Waupaca-area customers without power.

“I like snow but this one is just too wet and heavy to shovel,” commented resident Julie Baron.

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the middle school for anyone needing food or a warm place to sleep.

“Just so people know we’re here,” said Red Cross Volunteer Andrew Stanislawski. “They’re welcome to come and we’ll do whatever we can.”

Stanislawski said they’ll be there to help until the first winter mess of the season is cleared.

“We were ready for the long haul but it worked out good for us,” Steve Klismit added.

Red Cross opens service center for storm victims in Appleton

APPLETON Saturday, 03 Sep 2011, 9:39 PM CDT Fox 11

Due to the power outage, the American Red Cross said it now has a service center open at Appleton West High School at 610 N. Badger Avenue, Appleton.

The Red Cross is staffing the facility until 11:00p.m.

Red Cross officials say people affected by the outages are invited to recharge their electronic devices, take showers (please bring towel/toiletries), they will be given snacks, water, hot coffee and overall information.

If the need for overnight accommodations exists, the Red Cross asks you arrive by 11:00p.m. and/or call 920-231-3590.

The agency will provide a cot, blankets, pillow and breakfast if the need exists. Individuals should bring their medications, personal comfort items, etc.

The Red Cross has provided the following FAQ for storm victims:

Q. I have no power. Is there anything I should do if I’m using a generator?

A. Make sure you set the generator up outside, not in your house, basement or garage. Place the unit away from doors, windows and vents. You don’t want the carbon monoxide to come indoors. When using a portable generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a portable generator to your home’s electrical system.

Q. My power has been out. What should I do about my food?

A. Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out! Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing food ¬borne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking. If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it. If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with the food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch.

Q. How can the American people help?

A. The best way to help is to make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief, which supports our work in response to disasters like hurricanes and floods, as well as countless crises at home and around the world. People can donate to Red Cross disaster relief by going to redcross.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). They can also text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation with their mobile phone. 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.

Red Cross Response to Northeast Wisconsin Storms

Appleton storm damage. Photo by Craig Siegmann

By working with community partners, the American Red Cross is opening a shelter at 7:00p.m. this evening for individuals in need of electricity, food, water and health services.

 WHERE:          Kaukauna High School

ADDRESS:       1701 County Trunk CE, Kaukauna,WI

If no one needs services by 11:00p.m., we will close the shelter for the evening.

 The same facility will be open Saturday morning from 7:00-11:00a.m.

 ** Disclaimer: all information is subject to change based on emergency management reports and the return of power.

Do you know what to do in a power outage? Click HERE for a Red Cross Checklist!