Red Cross helping people recover from violent stormsWritten by Jason Copsey | | Jason.Copsey@redcross.org
Communities across the Midwest and South are still recovering from a string of violent storms that barreled across the region in late February and early March. The storms produced at least 70 tornadoes and left entire towns destroyed.
Since the night of the first storm, Red Cross volunteers and workers have operated shelters to offer food, emotional support and relief supplies to the thousands of people displaced by the tornadoes. In all, the Red Cross has sheltered hundreds of people in 11 states. The Red Cross workers are people who trained in their free time so they can volunteer to set up shelters, either in their hometown or halfway across the country in the wake of a major disaster.
At shelters across the affected region, families are doing their best to piece their lives back together. Many lost their homes, many lost their entire town, and many lost much, much more. How do you bring comfort to families that have lost so much? If you are the American Red Cross, you make a promise — a promise to be there for the community whenever, wherever disaster strikes. You let the American people know that Red Cross workers and volunteers are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide shelter, food, water, counseling and more to those who suddenly find their world turned upside down by a disaster. And if you are the Red Cross, you vow to never break that promise.
On the Monday following the storms, Red Cross Lucas County Disaster Services volunteer Terry Cluse-Tolar was deployed to Kentucky. The next day, volunteers Pearlia and Lawrence Kynard deployed as well. Terry is in the Louisville, Ky., area as a mental health case worker, helping people cope with what, for many, will be the hardest experience of their lives. Lawrence and Pearlia are in the southern Ohio/northern Kentucky region as caseworkers, providing technical guidance and support to teams of volunteers working to meet the direct needs of clients in the affected area.
For Terry, Lawrence and Pearlia, this was not their first time deploying to a major disaster. The Red Cross in Lucas County has a strong team of disaster volunteers that at a moment’s notice is ready to respond wherever disaster assistance is needed. Last year, volunteers responded to hundreds of house fires and deployed across the country, from flooding in Northeastern states after Hurricane Irene to wildfires in the West and a number of tornado relief efforts not unlike the one in which Terry, Lawrence and Pearlia are now taking part.
Our dedicated volunteers give their time and effort to provide people hope. What they give is often inspiring and astonishingly selfless. One volunteer, Gary Betway, spent over 100 days deployed across the country last year, responding to tornadoes, floods and hurricanes across several states.
A lot can be said for what our disaster volunteers give. What they bring home can be just as important.
“When I started volunteering with the Red Cross following Hurricane Katrina, it really reinvigorated by faith in humanity,” said Kathy McVicker. Kathy has volunteered for the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the Red Cross for nearly seven years, and is one of the many disaster volunteers from Lucas County who has spent many months responding to large-scale disasters. “It’s all about people helping people. The Red Cross continues to enrich my life with a variety of real-life experiences and provides me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others,” she said.
Kathy was one of the first volunteers to respond to the relief effort after an EF4 tornado struck Lake Township in 2010. It was an experience she, like so many in the area, remembers very well.
“It was devastating,” she said. As a volunteer deployed to the relief effort, she began with water distribution and meeting the people directly affected by the storm. “You just want to lessen their hurt. To share the load and do anything to make the process a little easier.”
Kathy said many people approached her that day to tell her that if it weren’t for the Red Cross, they wouldn’t know what to do. They told her that once they saw the Red Cross, they knew things would begin to get better. “You don’t realize how much the Red Cross is a symbol of help and hope until you are in these kinds of situations,” Kathy said.
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 www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
For more information on the Red Cross relief efforts, visit redcross.org. For more information on the efforts of the local Red Cross or to become a volunteer, visit RedCrossToledo.org or call (419) 329-2741.
Pick a safe place
The Red Cross has safety steps people can follow to protect members of their household. “Pick a safe place in your home or apartment building where household members and pets can gather during a tornado,” said Rick Bissell, PhD, MS, MA, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and chair of the Preparedness Sub-Council. “Use a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.”
Other steps people should take:
- Watch for tornado warning signs such as dark, greenish clouds, large hail, a roaring noise, a cloud of debris or funnel clouds. Secure outside items such as lawn furniture or trash cans, which could be picked up by the wind and injure someone.
- If a tornado watch is issued, it means tornadoes are possible and people should be ready to act quickly. If a tornado warning is issued, it means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar and people should immediately go underground to a basement or storm cellar or to an interior room such as a bathroom or closet.
- If a tornado warning is issued and someone is outdoors, they should hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building. If they cannot get to a building, they should get in a vehicle, buckle in and drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs, a person can pull over and stay in the car with the seat belt on, their head below the window, and cover their head with a blanket or their hands. If someone does not have a vehicle, they should find ground lower than the surface of the roadway and cover their head with their hands.
- If someone is in a high-rise building, they should pick a place in the hallway in the center of the building.
Jason Copsey is communications specialist for the Greater Toledo Chapter of the American Red Cross. Email him at Jason.Copsey@usa.redcross.org.