My Travel to New York for Hurricane Sandy

By Gayle Hein, American Red Cross Disaster Volunteer 

(l-r) Carla from Madison, Charlie from Stevens Point and Gayle Hein from Green Bay with the Madison Emergency Response Vehicle on their way to Rockaway Beach portion of Long Island.

I have been involved in Red Cross disaster services for the past seven years.  I joined Red Cross shortly after seeing the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Mostly my volunteering has involved fires in the community that displace people from their homes but this time I was deployed to the east coast due to Hurricane Sandy.   Red Cross volunteers are trained in various specialties and my specialty is sheltering so that’s what I was sent to do.

On Nov 1st, 2012 I left Green Bay and flew to White Plains NY, one of several Red Cross headquarters.   I was sent to open a shelter but before that happened I was sent to Staten Island to help hand out food, clothing and water.   Another day I was sent to check out a shelter that was being run by the community to see if they needed anything.   After those first couple of days I went to Old Westbury College in the Brookville area of Long Island to open a shelter for Red Cross volunteers.   I had a team of five people from all over the U.S.  That first night we only had a few people show up at the shelter.  But the next day we needed to set up 350 cots, get supplies to run the shelter and meet with the college representatives.  We went there in the dark and had no electricity except for a generator.  I supervised the shelter and as the days went by we had another team come in and they helped run it.

Noreastern Storm that hit the East Coast.

After about a week, two ladies and I decided we didn’t need so many people there to run the shelter so we transferred out of sheltering and then went to work in an Emergency Response Vehicle or ERV.  An ERV is a truck that we use to serve food to people in need.  The American Red Cross has 320 ERVs and all were sent to the east coast.  There were four kitchens operated by the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization preparing food for delivery.  I was in kitchen number 2 for my head quarters, which was in a parking lot at the Aquaduct Racetrack on Long Island. We would go there every morning, struggling with the traffic and some days it took an hour to get there.  Once we got there we had a meeting to plan the day’s activities.  I needed to find a truck that had two people and needed one more. It seems that three workers per truck were better than only two.  So I ran into these two people, Carla from Madison and Charlie from Stevens Point.  None of us knew each other before we teamed up.  We were assigned to the ERV from Madison. The area we were assigned was the Rockaway Beach portion of Long Island.  It was an area that was along the beach and saw a lot of storm damage.  Sand was everywhere, washed in town from the beach. We saw cement posts with no board walk left and piles of lumber, car smashed, and boats in the middle of the roads.  It looked like a war zone.  Many areas still didn’t have electricity or heat days after the storm.  Then there were others problem like sewer backups and a senior complex with no elevators, leaving people struck in their apartments.   We were sent to the same area every day and it was very sad to see the destruction.

Southern Baptist Disaster Kitchen #2 in New York City

On Thursday of my second week I was processing out and my team came back and said that the people that we were serving asked where I was. So they really did take notice of who was there to help them out and wondered if someone would take our places when we returned home.  On the way out my flight delayed at Austin Straubel Airport because President Obama was there and no planes could leave.  My return was no better.  I flew from New York to Minneapolis but was delayed there six hours due to mechanical difficulties.  Needless to say, I was glad when I finally got home but thankful to have been able to help the folks in New York.

Local Red Cross volunteers to help Sandy victims

Written by Charles Davis Green Bay Press-Gazette

American Red Cross volunteer Donna LaPlante of Little Suamico stopped at a Green Bay site before heading to New York to help victims of Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 30, 2012. / Charles Davis/Press-Gazette

Two local American Red Cross volunteers are leaving this morning for New York to help feed victims impacted by post-tropical cyclone Sandy.

“They are going to be living in conditions and working in conditions that are identical to the people they’re helping,” said Steve Hansen, chapter executive of the American Red Cross of Northeast Wisconsin. “This is not a vacation for our volunteers.”

Sandy hit the East Coast on Monday, leading to an estimated billion of dollars in damage, millions of people without electric power, thousands of flight cancellations, extreme flooding and at least 17 deaths.

Ginny Gibson of Iron Mountain, Mich., and Donna LaPlante of Little Suamico, will take an emergency response vehicle on a 17-hour drive to the East Coast. The women are expected to arrive late Wednesday in Middletown, N.Y., where they will then be directed to help residents in an area impacted by the storm. The response mission is expected to last from two to three weeks. Southern Baptist disaster relief teams will prepare meals, and the women will then deliver the food to neighborhoods that have been damaged.

“It’s such a rewarding experience to help and give someone a warm meal who hasn’t had a warm meal for days,” Gibson said, adding she has previously responded to several natural disasters, including helping victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On Tuesday, the women helped load the vehicle with bedding, water and equipment at the American Red Cross offices at 121 Bader St. On the drive there, the volunteers expect to face road closures, downed trees and severe weather.

More than 3,000 American Red Cross volunteers nationwide are responding to the East Coast, Hansen said. Seven volunteers and one employee from the eastern region of Wisconsin already have responded, and another 15 volunteers are on standby to travel to the region once travel restrictions have been removed.

About 30 American Red Cross volunteers from the eastern region of Wisconsin helped in Gulf Coast relief efforts after Hurricane Isaac hit in late August, Hansen said.

“It’s our job to anticipate and prepare for these types of disasters. This is what we do,” he added.

The storm canceled about 100 blood drives in the East Coast region on Monday and local residents are encouraged to donate blood, Hansen said.

— and follow him on Twitter @pgcharlesdavis.