From an ATV in a soybean field to a Red Cross shelter: one woman’s rescue story during record-breaking storms

by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

At first, Janice Huizenga thought she was hunkering down for another summer evening thunderstorm. Janice said she would occasionally peek out of the window of her home in Alto, in Fond du Lac County, on Tuesday as the wind whipped up and the rain started to fall.

Then, a sense of chaos, as the 84-year old saw downed trees, followed by concern, as the power went out at her house and throughout the neighborhood. Janice needed power for medical supplies and to keep an emergency bracelet charged.

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Janice Huizenga, left, shares her rescue story with Red Cross volunteers, including MaryKay Bishop.

With the storm raging around her home – the same storm that dropped more than a dozen tornadoes and flooded numerous rivers across the state – Janice’s adult children, all without power for the night, located a Red Cross shelter with power and notified local fire officials about their mother’s situation and location. Meanwhile, Janice said tornado sirens blared for a third time that night, something she said she’s never heard.

Janice’s home was now surrounded by broken trees, live wires and rain-soaked earth, so firefighters drove an ATV through a soybean field to reach her backyard. Then, she was brought along a meandering path of barely passable roads to a Red Cross shelter at Brandon High School, one town over.

“I was shocked when the tree was down [in my yard] and the roots were out,” said Janice on Wednesday, next to her cot at the shelter. “Then I saw the power line in the tree and wires pulled out of my house. Then, telephone posts were down and you never see that. Down the street, there were more posts down.”

Janice was one of dozens of people to spend a night or more at eight shelters that have been set up since August 20 by the Red Cross as part of monumental storms that have overflowed rivers and damaged homes and property from Prairie du Chien and La Crosse eastward to Coon Valley, Madison, Waupun and Cedarburg. One fatality has been reported so far in association with the storms, which have included record rainfall, numerous tornadoes and emergency declarations.

Three Red Cross shelters remained open as of August 31 and recovery efforts like clean-up kit distribution and sandbagging were in place as the state braced for more rains in the forecast through Labor Day weekend. (For updates on shelters, dial 2-1-1 or follow the Wisconsin Red Cross Facebook and Twitter pages.)

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A cornfield ravaged by August storms outside of Waupun, Wisconsin.

Back in Brandon, Janice recounted her scary evening with Red Cross volunteers, included MaryKay Bishop. The two bonded during the morning with stories of the storm, but also of family. After one night at the shelter – one of the few places with power anywhere close to her home – Janice had connected with her daughter who had planned to navigate roads still under the aftermath of the storms to take in her mother until power and safety were restored in Alto.

Janice was grateful for the night at the shelter, in the basketball court of Brandon H.S. She had slept some and talked with volunteers about plans for a group lunch.

Pondering the power of the devastating storms across Wisconsin, and of the wide-ranging recovery to come for herself and thousands of other residents, Janice said she felt humbled by a higher power at play.

“Man thinks they can do a lot, but nobody can do what God did with this wind,” she said.

To offer your support to people like Janice impacted by the Wisconsin storms and floods, click here to find out how to volunteer, donate or give blood.

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The Power of Social Engagement

By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communication Director  @jweyers2

With smartphones, facebook, twitter and other social engagement platforms it is changing the way we communicate with people.  Working in the communications field for over 12 years at the American Red Cross, I have seen a lot of changes in technology, forms of communications, what works and what is outdated.

Over the last few years, on larger disasters I have seen how our National Headquarters team uses social engagement as a way to communicate with our clients, and as a way for the community impacted to communicate with us.

I have now experienced this power first-hand on the impact social media has in times of a disaster with the recent tornadoes and storms that hit Northeast Wisconsin on the morning of August 7.

Here are some real life examples of how we identified those who needed help and we were able to help:

Tweet from @WendyH0405:  @newredcross I’m in rural Hortonville and am wondering where to go to get ice thanks?

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I sent her my e-mail and she contacted me with her information and I was able to provide her number to our team delivering ice to call her when they were in the area. I am happy to say Wendy sent back an e-mail at 2:00pm that day, saying she was able to get ice and thank you!

Here is another success story.

Idell Johnnston @sfagentidell is a State Farm agent from Shawano, and has helped in the past with her family to canvas the area with fire prevention door hangers. She saw me on the news that night, wanted to help and followed up via facebook.  I made a call to the disaster lead and, yes, we did need some extra hands. Idell and her daughter came down to help give out ice all day at our Appleton Office.

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Social engagement cannot replace your traditional forms of communication. You still have to pick up the phone, meet people in person, and I am a firm believer of the hand written thank you note, but in times of disaster, and with social engagement being instant, this is just another tool to help the Red Cross connect with people and for people to connect with the Red Cross!

Thank you @lisajduff  for your nice message of appreciation!!!

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How the Red Cross is helping!

A house in the Freedom area destroyed by the tornadoes.

A house in the Freedom area destroyed by the tornadoes.

The early morning of August 7, 2013 Northeast Wisconsin was hit with five tornadoes, confirmed by the National Weather Service causing power outages, damage to homes and businesses, and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

Red Cross workers where immediately called to action to respond to those impacted by the tornadoes and storms. Our support, to those impacted, continues as some are just starting to get their power restored.

As of Aug 8, our total response includes:

  • Serving 4,920 meals and snacks to those impacted.
  • Distribution of 7,500 pounds of ice.
  • Three shelters open (Wrightstown, Appleton and New London) for people to receive water, food, ice, a place to stay, and a place to charge electronics.
  •  Two mobile feeding trucks going out into the impacted communities delivering water, ice, snacks, sandwiches, and gloves.
  • 72 Red Cross workers responding to those in need.
Volunteer, Chris Worm, from Fond du Lac, giving out water and sandwiches to those in need.

Volunteer, Chris Worm, from Fond du Lac, giving out water and sandwiches to those in need.

Red Cross will be sending two mobile feeding trucks this afternoon, and over the weekend to the communities of Wrightstown, Freedom, Appleton, Hortonville and New London. These trucks will have water, ice, snacks, sandwiches and gloves to distribute to those in need.

Our shelter in Wrightstown closed as of 9:30am, Thursday, August 8 and our New London shelter closed at 1:00pm today. The Appleton shelter, located at Appleton West HS, 1610 Badger Ave, will be closed at 7:00pm tonight.

Individuals can pick up ice and supplies at the Appleton shelter until 7:00pm today or at our Appleton Office, located at 1302 E. Wisconsin Ave until 4:00pm today.

If you need help due to storm/tornado damage throughout Northeast Wisconsin, please call 1-800-236-8680 for assistance. Disaster teams are ready to help you with your immediate emergency needs.

Want to see pictures of our volunteers in action?  Check out our flickr site:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/newredcross/

If you would like to make a financial gift please go to: http://www.redcross.org, or call 1-800-Red-Cross (1-800-733-2767)

Additional Pictures of the WI Storms; Red Cross in Action

American Red Cross Disaster Service volunteers Roger Palmer, left, and Mack McElrone inspect storm damage to a home in Kaukauna, WI. on Monday April 11, 2011. A large storm and reported tornado left a path of downed trees and destroyed homes on Sunday night.
The Post-Crescent photo by Wm. Glasheen

Photos: Disaster Assessment American Red Cross Volunteers In Action