Tornadoes, power outages, extreme heat and an explosion: how Red Cross ‘helped our communities’

Story and photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Elizabeth Arnold forked into another bite of spaghetti in red sauce Tuesday afternoon in the cafeteria at Menominee Tribal School in Neopit. Just moments before, Arnold and others eating in the lunch room applauded at the announcement by officials that power had been fully restored for the first time since Friday’s wild storms.

Elizabeth Arnold Laurel Russ Tribal School meal select July 23 2019

American Red Cross volunteers Laurel Cooper, left, and Russ Van Skike serve up a warm, tasty meal of pasta to Elizabeth Arnold on Tuesday in Neopit.

“This is the first warm meal I’ve had since Friday,” Arnold said between bites of pasta.

The American Red Cross partnered with Salvation Army and leaders from the Menominee Nation and Menominee County to serve the lunch for dozens of families on Tuesday. The groups also provided information on power outage preparedness and dealing with food spoilage. It was part of an ongoing, statewide response by the Red Cross, which kicked off in earnest with an explosion in Madison on Friday morning and then continued into the week following thunderstorms, hail, small tornadoes and extreme heat that blasted across Wisconsin.

The Red Cross has established, partnered with or supported approximately 14 reception centers – located along the path of storms and destruction from Neopit to Mishicot, from Appleton to Waupaca, and from Madison to Balsam Lake – for residents in need of water, snacks, power and sometimes meals and showers. Through Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross had provided nearly 1,400 hot and pre-packaged meals along with 570 cases of water across the state. Operations have also been set up to help with sheltering of clean-up partners like Team Rubicon in Langlade County and canteening for search and rescue teams in Menominee County. From Friday into Saturday, volunteers ran a cooling shelter at the Alliant Energy Center as the city of Madison dealt with a power station explosion that knocked out electricity during the brunt of a heat wave. Roles at Red Cross have been predominately run by a team of approximately 50 volunteers. Gov. Tony Evers has declared a State of Emergency from the storms. In partnership with county, state and tribal leaders, the Red Cross remains committed to bringing immediate needs and resources to residents affected by this devastating wave of storms.

From bottom right Emmeretta Corn Chantel Alveshive Kewascum Rosie Ricky Lee Stalla Joseph Tribal School July 2019

The whole family shares a laugh at youthful antics Tuesday during a lunch served at Menominee Tribal School. Pictured are, from bottom right, Emmeretta Corn, Chantel Alveshive, Kewascum, 4, Rosie, 3, Ricky Lee, 8, Stalla, 2, and Joseph, 4. 

After her meal, Arnold, a Menominee County board supervisor, loaded up extra meals into her truck to take to neighbors in Keshena also dealing with outages and unable to make the Tuesday lunch service. She turned to Red Cross volunteers: “Thank you for everything. You really helped our communities out.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, remnants of sheer winds and some of the verified tornadoes remained very present, like in Elderon, where trees were pulled from the ground with densely exposed roots and earth, and in Knowlton, where barn siding was ripped off and coiled across properties. At the fire department in Rosholt, volunteers have kept the doors open 24 hours for people in need of water, showers and somewhere to plug in. Here, the Red Cross has played a support role with water while keeping in contact with Portage County officials on immediate needs. Rosholt F.D. Chief Greg Michelkamp said the department generator had been cranking full-time since Saturday and that he hoped his neighbors would have the lights back on soon, for risk of longer term needs like sheltering or mass feeding.


For the latest weather alerts, preparedness tips and shelter info, download the free American Red Cross Emergency App here or in your app store.


In Appleton on Monday, one of two reception center sites operated from a community room at the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. There, a family of three recharged phones and contacted family via text and social media. KaZoua Lee scrolled through Facebook and said it was nice to have a place to plug back in and “let people know” they were OK, even without power for a few days. The three listened as a neighbor shared her stories of the storm and subsequent outage while her phone juiced up. Volunteer Sharon Holt of Combined Locks said the stories were typical from the more than 150 people who paced in and out of the center since Sunday morning.

Knowlton barn siding tornado July 2019

A confirmed tornado from weekend storms peeled off siding from this barn in Knowlton, Wisc.

Blocks from the Appleton site, mangled trees lined residential neighborhoods on either side of Highway 47, especially around the Erb Park area. City crews and electric company line workers were always within view or earshot. Neighbors likened this damage to the storms and weak tornados in 2016. David Williams, a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer with the Red Cross, was himself still running off a neighbor’s generator as he cleared away a smashed fence and broken tree limbs. Williams said he and his mother were lucky to have such community support.

“A lot of damage, but we’ll be alright,” Williams said.

Red Cross will continue to partner with local and state agencies in the days and weeks ahead as our neighbors continue their recovery.

Your generosity enables the Red Cross to mobilize support to people in need, up the street and across the county. Consider a donation to support volunteers and resources for people affected by a disaster. Click here to take action.

Wisconsin’s Longest Tornado Leaves a Path of Disaster

Early evening on May 16, 2017, a deadly tornado cycle took aim on Barron and Rusk counties in northern Wisconsin. The EF-3 twister with winds of at least 140 miles per hour ran for 83 miles which makes it Wisconsin’s longest tornado since modern documentation began in 1950. The storm damaged 231 homes and four commercial buildings.

The storms epicenter was the Prairie Lakes Estates mobile home in Chetek and the Jennie-O turkey farm were tossed, turned, stripped and shattered to pieces. Leaving 40 homes destroyed, one person dead and 35 injured. Across county lines, in Rusk County, Conrath was hit the second hardest from the same tornado.

The American Red Cross quickly set up two reception centers at Mosaic Telecom in Cameron, the Ladysmith Sheriff’s Department first and then the Holy Trinity Church in downtown Conrath. Red Cross Disaster Responders from all over Wisconsin rushed in to support the shelter conduct damage assessment, work one-on-one with clients including by providing financial support, replacing medications and equipment to providing an emotional support to those left temporarily homeless.

For the Rutledge family, the trauma of the storm was multi-faceted. The family huddled in their mobile home before it broke apart and thrown across the earth. One member of the family was transported to Regis Hospital with life-threatening injuries. While looking at the remains of their home, they heard noises. Garnering the attention of first responders, they lifted twisted metal, shattered wood and through insulation carefully, quickly – yet carefully – through the remains. When their bunny “Racer” was in the arms of the family, they knew not all was lost.

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Three generations of the Rutledge family, Mary, Deeann & Cynthia embrace Racer, the rabbit after he was rescued from the mobile home which collapsed upon him in the Chetek tornado. (Barbara Behling, American Red Cross)

See American Red Cross Wisconsin Chapters Flickr site for more photos.

Our largest Multi-agency Resource Center, often called a “one-stop shop” for residents, was spearheaded by the Red Cross. For two days, Mosaic Telecom hosted 26 agencies.  These agencies provided assistance ranging from; rent assistance, security deposits, furniture, household supplies, food, clothing and much more. Each attendee started with the Red Cross caseworkers to help people create personal recovery plans, navigate paperwork, and locate assistance for their specific disaster-caused needs.

Non-profit, government and community organizations included:

  • American Red Cross
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  • Barron County DSI
  • Red Cedar Church
  • Rural Development – USDA
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Vincent de Paul
  • United Way 211
  • WestCap
  • WI Judicare
  • Workforce Resources
  • Public Health
  • Benjamin’s House – Emergency Shelter
  • Citizens Connected
  • Johnson Insurance
  • Mosaic Telecom
  • Ruby’s Closet
  • USDA Rural Development
  • Wisconsin Works
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Barron County Veterans Service

The Red Cross has also trucked in rakes, gloves, masks, googles, bug spray and plastic bags to help in the clean-up process.

For Polk County resident, Sue Ames-Lillie, this was the first MARC she has been to, even though she has responded to hundreds of residential fires. She recalls one mother and child in particular. “The mother was battling stage-4 cancer and yet she still had the strength to carry her son upon arrival. After striking a conversation, I learned he had lost his favorite toy.” Sue ushered them in for lunch, then offered clothing along with other items provided by multiple resources. “Permission was granted to take him to a special area where toys and stuffed animals were waiting for children. His frown turned to a smile and this is how I will forever remember this day” Sue shares with gleaming eyes.

Local and regional trained disaster responders were on-scene immediately and knowing an out pouring of community support would swell, the Red Cross activated 26 ‘event based volunteers’ who worked alongside 64 registered Red Cross workers (90 total) to provide:

  • 2, 117 meals & snacks served
  • 1,721 personal hygiene kits and cleanup items distributed
  • 213 individuals met with and assisted
  • 302 health services visits
  • 78 mental health services visits

 

Moving forward the Red Cross is a partner in the Barron County long-term recovery process to ensure community resiliency is achieved. Our community education team will also be available to area schools and groups to share emergency preparedness information such as The Pillowcase Project for grade school kids.

Overall, the Barron County Sherriff’s Department estimates about $10 million in damages. The Rusk County Sheriff said their area sustained heavy damage to public and private properties, including homes and rural farms.

Thank You to Walmart for Their Support of Disaster Relief

Walmart Mutual St. 2

When Northeast Wisconsin was impacted by SIX tornadoes and straight line winds in August, friends, neighbors and local organizations jumped in to help those in need.  The Walmart store (#1982) in Appleton on Mutual Way is still helping.

Michael Queen, Shift Manager, presented Betsy Wandtke, Major Gifts Officer, with a check for $1,000 for Disaster Relief.  The presentation was made during the store’s grand opening after the major remodeling project.  The event was attended by other store managers, employees and organizations also getting support for their causes.  It was an energetic and uplifting meeting.

We want to thank Walmart for their support of the community not only during the disaster, but after as well.  We couldn’t do what we do without their help!

Your Top Three Disaster Related Questions Answered

question-markIn times of disaster people have many questions on what is the best way to help.  Here are the answers to the top three questions we are receiving regarding the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

If you have additional questions, please let us know by calling 920-468-8535.  

Q: How can I volunteer and help the tornado victims?

A: We appreciate the offers to volunteer, but right now we have enough trained disaster workers in Oklahoma to help. Please consider, contacting your local Red Cross chapter to get trained so that you might be able to help in the future. Please visit www.redcross.org/support/volunteer/disaster-volunteer for more information.

Q: Why won’t the Red Cross take small quantities of donated goods?

A:  After a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it most. The Red Cross isn’t equipped to handle a large influx of donations like household items, clothing or food that may or may not be useful to victims. It takes time and money to sort, process, transport and then distribute donated items—whereas financial donations can be accessed quickly and put to use right away. Plus, financial donations allow us to be flexible in the help that we provide and ensure we can provide what people need most. As an added benefit, financial donations allow the Red Cross and disaster victims to purchase items locally, stimulating the economy of the disaster-affected area.

Even a small financial donation can go further than you might think. For instance, $2 can provide a snack to a child who just lost his or her home, and $10 can provide a hot meal to that same child. You can help people affected by disasters 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 redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Q: Does the Red Cross need blood donations?

A: The Red Cross stands ready to help meet the blood needs of patients in and around Oklahoma City if needed. There is currently enough blood on the shelves to meet patient demands. However, those with type O negative blood are encouraged to give blood when they are able. The role of Red Cross Blood Services in this response is as a secondary supplier of blood products to area hospitals.

All eligible blood donors can schedule an appointment to give in the days and weeks ahead by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or visiting redcrossblood.org. With many people scheduling appointments to give blood, redcrossblood.org may run slower and wait times on 1-800-RED CROSS may be longer than usual. No Red Cross facilities were affected by the storms, but some blood drives may be canceled as recovery and clean-up begins. To find out if a blood drive has been canceled or to reschedule an appointment to give blood or platelets, call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Red Cross Helping Tornado Victims Across the Midwest

Our thoughts and concerns go to everyone in Oklahoma following this horrific tornado.

The American Red Cross has one shelter open in Moore and is working on locating others; we continue to operate three shelters that were opened Sunday in the Oklahoma City area following the storms on Sunday.

Red Cross volunteers are out tonight with food and supplies supporting first responders.

More than 25 emergency response vehicles are positioned to move at first light Tuesday, and we expect that the number will increase. The Red Cross is also sending in kitchen support trailers to support the upcoming operation to provide meals to those forced out of their homes.

People in Oklahoma near the tornado area are encouraged to connect with one another and let loved ones know that they are safe. This can be done through the I’m Safe feature of the free Red Cross tornado app. In addition, if you have access to a computer, go to redcross.org/safeandwell to list yourself as safe. If not, you can text loved ones or call a family member and ask them to register you on the site.

This has been a major disaster, and the Red Cross will be there for the people in this state and this community. People who wish to make a donation to support the Red Cross response can visit redcross.org, dial 1-800-REDCROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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 visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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 http://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 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 www.redcross.org, 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 www.redcross.org/safeandwell 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 http://www.redcross.org 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.