Written by David Haas
Isolated by high water for three days, a dedicated team of five Red Cross volunteers opened and maintained a shelter serving 900 people. Outside contact was limited to helicopter deliveries. One of the five was an 84-year-old retired nurse with more than 30 deployments on her volunteer resume. “I am too busy thinking about other people, people who have lost everything” she says.
A Red Cross volunteer from Newport NC summed up the hurricane’s effect by stating that, “it looks like someone took a bomb and dropped it” on her hometown. We found the woman helping run a Red Cross blood drive, a higher priority for her than cleaning up the storm damage to her home.
Flying over Elizabethtown North Carolina, a Red Cross volunteer saw “saw a silo and a barn roof sticking through the water, and knew there was a farm below that was surrounded by water.” Four hundred pounds at a time, he worked with other volunteers to deliver 288,000 lbs. of supplies.
These are just some of the inspiring stories told by the more than 2,350 Red Cross volunteers providing disaster response for Hurricane Florence. More than 70 Eastern PA volunteers and staff deployed as part of the national response and many are still there providing support in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina.
As a public affairs volunteer during the first week following landfall, I witnessed the generous nature of Red Cross volunteers and the communities they support.
For example, one of the 110 Red Cross shelters in North Carolina was located in Chapel Hill. Housing 340 people at its busiest, the shelter received tremendous community support. This included volunteers reading to children, fire fighters showing off their trucks, boy scouts cleaning cots and the entire championship UNC-Chapel Hill basketball team. It was hard to tell whether the shelter residents or the Red Cross volunteers were more excited by the visits, but it did wonders for morale in the midst of long days in the shelter.
More than 19 non-profit organizations coordinated with the Red Cross during the disaster. Members of the Southern Baptist Crisis Care Team worked in stand-alone kitchens to prepare 6,000 lunches and dinners each day. The meals were delivered by Red Cross volunteers to first responders, residents and survivors of the hurricane. “The Red Cross and the Southern Baptists represent a unique display of partnership that is working well.” Said spiritual care provider Kristen Curtis.
Even American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern participated, spending two days visiting disaster assistance headquarters to listen to the issues faced by volunteers and thank them for their dedicated service. She stayed for a long time at each location until all questions were answered and all selfies were taken.
We could not reach many areas until the water level on roads receded. Then I saw firsthand the damage caused by Florence. Traveling with a small team, we visited a shelter in New Bern, NC to meet with volunteers and determine what additional supplies were needed. En-route, we saw boats lifted onto dry land by the surge, trees ripped up by their roots from the wind, and hundreds of homes whose insulation flooring and furniture were lying in the road, removed because of flood exposure. We could see the discoloration of water marks halfway up the sides of many buildings.
Returning to regional headquarters, we learned of two Red Cross volunteers who left their 12-hour shift and were first on the scene of a serious car accident. A mother was trapped in the driver’s seat and her teenage daughter injured and hanging out of the passenger side window. Using their Red Cross First Aid/CPR training, one stopped traffic to prevent a secondary collision while the other worked to stabilize the injured until first responders arrived.
Still wearing his Red Cross T-shirt, the volunteer was able to calm the teenager. “What we did seemed natural” he said. “When you see a need, you help.”