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Sarah’s Sandy Experience

I recently returned from Hurricane Sandy Deployment in New Jersey. This is the second Disaster Response since I began my internship at the Red Cross in August. This time around there were not as many surprises and I was more comfortable knowing what to pack and anticipate. I arrived at the Newark airport on Monday night, November 5th. I was lucky to be able to fly with Bianca, our UF Red Cross Gators Co-President, and even luckier that we were put in a hotel in Jersey City before receiving our assignments. The hotel was located just across from NYC and when we checked in for the night we could see the lit skyline from our window. I was not expecting to be put in a hotel after my first deployment, where I spent most of my nights either on a cot or in a church on a bunk bed.

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The next morning we traveled to the headquarters in North Brunswick to get our orientation and job assignment. I was assigned to the northern New Jersey Disaster Relief Operation and sent to headquarters in Fairfield New Jersey. My work on this disaster response was different than when I deployed to Louisiana for Hurricane Isaac. This time, I spent a lot of my two weeks working from the chapter headquarters, which was a beautiful 8 million dollar donation building…a little different from the office in Gainesville. I assisted the client casework team with planning our response and the areas we needed to cover. It gave me a lot of respect for the management side of a response. I was able to see all the reporting, paperwork, and data entry that is required by national on a daily basis.

Before I began working from the office, I was able to go visit one of the client shelters we had open.  We were preparing to start shelter casework and the team I was assigned went to visit the shelter. After meeting with the manager we decided we would come back first thing in the morning and get to work with the clients. Later that night, I came down with a horrible stomach bug, which had me up all night and into the next day sick. One of the worst sicknesses I’ve ever experienced. It ended up being an illness that was rotating through the volunteers and every day multiple people were sick. The number of people affected became so severe that the office was decontaminated and signs about hand washing and proper hygiene had to be posted in hopes of keeping anyone else that hadn’t been affected well.

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Union Beach was one of the hardest hit areas that I saw while I was deployed. The destruction was unimaginable. In places where houses once stood there were only cement foundations left, or in some cases piles of rubble. Cars were turned upside down and others were lying under a fallen tree. The scenes were unreal and the fact that these were homes where people had lived only a week before was heartbreaking. Seeing this area definitely put the disaster into perspective for me. I was glad I was there to help with recovery, but I also had the feeling of wanting to do more.  Every volunteer that deploys is of great need and importance and that is something that needs to be kept in mind. Although you are one person, you are part of a greater picture in helping these communities recover from unimaginable damage.

Although I’m back home and returning to my daily routine, the disaster recovery is far from over in the Northeast. Red Cross volunteers are still deploying and will be through the holidays to ensure long term assistance and to make sure that everyone has a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and clothing to stay warm. Thank you to all the volunteers who continue to give their time to help others in need and for the continued support the Red Cross provides.

-Sarah Napolitano, Americorps Member for NCFC Red Cross

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The Latest on Superstorm Sandy

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, The Red Cross would like to say thanks for the generosity of the American public. The Red Cross has been able to spend tens of millions of donated dollars providing food, shelter, relief supplies and comfort to people affected by Sandy, and those dollars are making a difference. 

Shelters have been able to remain open for people unable to return home. More than 500 people spent Saturday night in 5 Red Cross shelters in New Jersey and New York.

Since Sandy hit, organizations have pulled together to provide more than 147,000 shelter stays. The Red Cross has provided more than 75,000 of those stays.

Red Cross volunteers are driving through neighborhoods to hand out water, food and relief supplies in more than 300 feeding trucks as well as rental cars, trucks and other vehicles. Visit http://newsroom.redcross.org for more information.

In New York, the Red Cross mobilized a large effort to hand out relief supplies to people in need for the second weekend in a row. Overall so far, we have handed out more than 2.9 million relief items to people affected by Sandy.

The Red Cross has also provided more than 70,000 health services and emotional support contacts for people who have been living in very tough conditions.

Also in light of the coming holiday, The Red Cross will be working with a range of community and faith-based groups to get Thanksgiving meals to people in the areas affected by Sandy. This will include distributing food before the holiday, supporting faith-based and community Thanksgiving meal programs, and serving Thanksgiving meals from Red Cross kitchens on Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving we should all be thankful for the roof over our heads and the warm meals on our tables as we keep those affected by Sandy in our thoughts.

-Hayley Jones, Emergency Services Intern

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Hurricane Sandy Update

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If you have yet to abandon the news sources altogether due to the extensive reporting on elections, you are probably well aware of Hurricane Sandy brewing off of the east coast.

The Red Cross is aware, and has already begun the response efforts in multiple east coast states. As of yesterday, 128 people sought refuge in shelters in North Carolina and Virginia. Some areas along the coast have been ordered to evacuate and Red Cross workers are preparing to open and support more shelters as the storm moves northward. Hundreds of disaster workers from all over the east coast are ready to help support Sandy’s victims. There are nearly 100 emergency response vehicles enroute to the region to distribute thousands of ready-to-eat meals and relief supplies. 

The Red Cross is working closely with government officials and community partners such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Americorps, and Salvation Army to try to minimize Sandy’s potential detriment. 

The Red Cross also wants people to know that Sandy is a big and dangerous storm and must be taken seriously. Dangerous flooding, extensive power outages, and heavy wind and rain are all likely effects of Sandy. Everyone should listen to local officials and follow all evacuation protocol.

Helpful information on shelters can be found through the Red Cross Hurricane app or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS 

-Hayley Jones, Emergency Services Intern

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Meet The Barry’s

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stove in the Barry’s kitchen where the fire started (above)

Up until a few days ago, Kathy Barry (like many others) saw the American Red Cross as an organization that stepped in to help in the face of astronomically devastating disasters. The kinds that claim hundreds of lives and plaster the front pages of newspapers for weeks. Needless to say, she was surprised to see Red Cross Volunteers show up on the evening of Tuesday, October 9th as her house was caught in flames.

I came by the following afternoon (Wednesday October 10th) to do an interview with the Barry’s. It was a beautifully breezy day and by the smile on Kathy and Tony’s faces as they welcomed me into their partially burned home, you would never have known what they had so recently been through.

“Well I wanted to cook a good meal for Tony,” Kathy told me, nodding towards her husband. “He was away for work and coming home today. So, I made some chicken on the stove and walked out to feed the animals. When I came back close to the house I heard the smoke alarm going off. I opened the door and smoke just hit me in the face. I couldn’t see any flames yet, but that’s when I just knew it was going to be bad.”

Kathy looked over towards the charred kitchen shaking her head. “I really remember turning the stove off,” she said with a look of certainty.

After opening the door to a smoke filled house, Kathy ran around to call 9-1-1 and that is when she saw flames eating through the side of the kitchen wall and smoke billowing out of the roof.

“It felt like ages for the fire department to arrive. Of course, I’m sure it wasn’t very long.” Kathy explains how time goes by remarkably slowly when you are waiting for relief in the midst of chaos.“I was just hoping they could save everything, and so grateful my granddaughter wasn’t home,” she went on.

In regards to the Red Cross volunteers’ involvement, Kathy concedes that the situation would have been very different without their presence. “Would have been missing the comfort feeling. The firefighters were good and nice but it was a comfort to know that [the Red Cross] was there for me. I was very impressed by both responders; how attentive they were to me, sensitive to my needs and what my needs would be the next few days.”

Tony nodded in agreement with Kathy’s sentiments commenting that “in a time like this any kind of help is valuable.”

“I’m just worried about how I’m going to clean everything. We are simple people. Try to live simply and be happy, nothing fancy. Never expect something like this to happen to you,” Kathy remarked.

“There is never a good time for something like this to happen,” Tony added.

The Barry’s expect it will be a few months before they can get their house back to normal. But with such an optimistic and grateful attitude, it seems to me they are well on their way.

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Tony and the Barry’s dog, Sissy (above)

-Hayley Jones, Emergency Services Intern

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volunteer LA. shelter highlights-Isaac 2012

My wife and I were deployed as shelter managers from headquarters located in Port Allen, LA. What a privilege to be asked to join a team of seven to open a shelter for potential evacuees from the Louisiana dam site that was breached. The intense rainfall had caused significant damage that led enough Louisiana’s governor to order the evacuation of the areas below the dam in harms way. The action needed to be swift and was under the command of the State of Louisiana National Guard and the LA. department of Children and Family Services plus a full response support sheltering team from the Red Cross. Within a few short hours a high school campus in Pontachula, LA. was ready to receive up to 2,500 evacuees if needed; a true MEGA SHELTER. Fortunately, the dam held and the mandatory evacuation was lifted three days later. However, even though the shelter did not have to be used, the people that lived below the dam knew that there was a place of refuge from the danger. Once our work was completed at that mega shelter, our team was reassigned to open up yet another Mega-shelter located in Baton Rouge. That shelter was to accommodate hundreds of Red Cross staff that were amongst the 3,000+ volunteers assigned to the area to give services to the local clients. My wife and I became totally overwhelmed by the task as supervisors to open and manage this huge two dorm shelter for the next 10 days, commonly known as the CELTIC staff shelter. I am writing this post because many people do not think much about the challenges and logistics involved when 3,000 volunteers converge on an event as wide spread as Isaac (or any other major disaster). Over 200 emergency relief vehicle (ERV) drivers, bulk delivery drivers, RN’s and mental health personnel, shelter staffers, disaster assessment teams, headquarters staff, ect., many needing lodging. In reality, hundreds of cots complete with blankets and pillows set up in an open dorm format does not qualify for any star ratings for normal travelers. However, most of our volunteers understood what their mission was and endured these small
inconveniences for a few days in order to serve those less fortunate victims. It took a couple of days to recoup from our 12 hour shelter shifts, but Karen and I are ready and willing to accept the next challenge as needed. A huge thanks to all Red Cross supporters who made it possible to meet the needs when and where necessary. respectfully, Art and Karen Wyckoff, North Central Florida Chapter; Gainesville, FL.

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Remembering 9/11

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I was sitting in my sixth-grade science classroom chatting carelessly with my table-mates when our school’s Dean entered the room with a look of sullen shock on his face. He proceeded to tell us of the horrific attacks that had just occurred in New York City. A silent panic swept over the room.

Every American old enough to remember 9/11 has a similar memory. It is a memory ingrained by fear, forever in their minds of where they were and what they were doing the minute they learned of or witnessed the 9/11 tragedies eleven years ago.

With those grief-stricken recollections there is also the remembrance of the unity, bravery, and self sacrifice that such a devastating event brought out in the American spirit.

Members of the American Red Cross of Greater New York rushed to the scene after the first plane hit the North Tower. Throughout the disaster volunteers showed up from all areas of the New York region and across the country to help in the response effort.

Red Cross 9/11 disaster relief operations included:

  • More than 14 million meals and snacks served
  • 60 shelters opened for 3,554 families
  • 101 sites opened to deliver services
  • 292 emergency vehicles deployed
  • 57,434 Red Cross employees and volunteers assigned from all 50 states
  • 240,417 mental health contacts and 133,035 health contacts made either in person or by phone by Red Cross employees and volunteers

Here’s to all the heroes who gave their time, money, and even their lives to turn a day of loss and mourning into a day of hope and compassion. We will never forget.

-Hayley Jones

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The ongoing need for Relief

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A disaster, anywhere, is something no community can prepare COMPLETELY for.  The emotional, mental, and physical strain that it puts on any individual, or community is unbearable throughout the entire process.  FEMA, SBA, acronym, acronym, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.  If having encroaching floodwater, little warning, homes isolated, communication breakdowns, etc wasn’t enough, the water just isn’t going down in many areas. 

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As ongoing Disaster Assessment goes on, families struggle to find resources through the maze of resource allocations, unknown (due to lack of experience, not for lack of trying) avenues to recieve funding, and difficult affected landscape to try and navigate to do the simplist tasks: grocery shopping, going to the bank, getting gas, feed for the animals, etc.

So, just when is this going to get better?

The answer is unkown for many residents of Suwannee and Columbia counties.  Bearing through low-lying flooding, sinkholes, and washed out roads, the road to recovery will be slow-going.  Multiple agencies are coming together for long-term recovery.  Catholic Charities, Christian Servce Center, United Way, Salvation Army, Red Cross and many others have walked hand-in-hand sweeping through the communities trying to assist with the clean-up and recovery.

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For many residents, the fear of the unknown future is what causes the greatest anxiety.  For now, the Red Cross will continue outreach to the affected residents.  If you know anyone who is in need of support, please contact our local chapter at 352-376-4669.

 

 

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