Blanks speak at Red Cross ‘Ready U’ volunteer eventWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | email@example.com
Editor’s note: Toledo Free Press will follow the Blank family of Millbury for the next year as they rebuild their lives after the June 5 tornado destroyed their Main Street home.
When the Blanks woke up the morning after the tornado, they thought, “What do we do now?”
Like the many victims of the June 5 tragedy, it was hard to think about rebuilding when they hadn’t even accepted the loss.
“We had no flashlights, we had no water, we had no phones, we had nothing,” Ed Blank said. “We lost everything. It was total devastation.”
Ed said one of the first groups of people the family saw the next morning was the Red Cross at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ. It became an informational center to tell them what to do next.
“Looking back, we weren’t ready,” Ed said. “We did not know what to do. We did not know who to call, who to talk to. We had no emergency kits. We didn’t have anything downstairs in a safe place. If it wasn’t for all the people who were out there helping so quickly, we would have been lost.”
Ed spoke at the Jan. 24 Ready U session on “Volunteering in a Disaster.” The session is part of a yearlong series sponsored by the Red Cross and the Lucas County Emergency Management Agency. Toledo Free Press is a media sponsor.
Tom Barnhizer, deputy director of the Lucas County Emergency Management Agency, said planning for disasters before they happen is the best way to help victims like the Blanks. That planning includes training volunteers before the tragedy strikes. That way, volunteers are ready to help and stay safe if they are at ground zero.
“We try to plan for things that would happen on your worst possible day. We try to plan for the worst things. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” Barnhizer said.
Diane Dixon, director of volunteer management at the Red Cross, said the night of the tornado the volunteers were there within an hour. They were already trained and ready to go.
“Mr. Blank said it right, when we get there, we are what happens next,” Dixon said. “When they are looking to rebuild their lives, our volunteers are on the scene.”
Barnhizer said the United States is a nation of volunteers. People across the country step up after disasters and give their time and talent to help other people who have become victims, possibly believing it could one day be them, he said.
Ed said he never believed it would happen to his family. The day of the tornado started with a Lake Athletic Boosters golf outing and then a birthday party for son Casey. When their neighbors, the Walters came home, the Blanks asked them to come over for a bonfire. They said, ‘No, we are really tired. We are going to bed.’”
“While most of the people who survived the tornado were awake and had the opportunity to survive the tornado and seek shelter, they did not, Ed said.
But Ed wasn’t worried about going into the basement until right before the tornado hit at 11:30 p.m. He remembers saying to his wife, “It is fine. This isn’t Kansas. We are not going to get hit by a tornado.”
Moments after Ed dove into the basement, their house was ripped away and the Blanks were thrown into chaos.
“Unfortunately, we did witness our neighbors in their yard clinging to their last breath. All we could do was pray for them,” Ed said.
The next morning, the Blanks could not get to their property because of missing people. When they did return, there were no fewer than 500 people ready to help.
“The next four months, I didn’t lift a hand,” Ed said. “All I could do when I went back to my site was thank people who were helping us.”
Ed said the volunteers were from Northwest Ohio, Southeast Michigan and Indiana. People wanted to give him money out of their pockets.
“There is no better place to live. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here. That is why we built on the same site,” Ed said.
The Blanks moved into their rebuilt house Dec. 17. Two more neighbors are moving back in soon. The community is being rebuilt.
“For any of you who ended up on our property or ended up helping, all my wife and I and my son can say is thank you,” Ed said, holding back tears.