Neighbors Help Neighbors Where Tornado Tore Through

“It was one amazing thing to see.”

Kristen Gallagher, Disaster Program Specialist in the Lake to River Chapter, was not describing the damage she saw, following the tornado that hit Williamsfield, Ohio Sunday night.

Kristen was describing the scene on Monday morning, when she witnessed neighbors repairing each other’s homes, securing tarps where the twister ripped off roofs and tore away walls, and clearing roadways for vehicles, including the horses and buggies of the Amish residents of Williamsfield.

“Who knew their horses and buggies went off-road!” said Kristen, as she described the clean-up efforts.  “It was very heartwarming to see them all in action just hours after the tornado did so much damage.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo credit: Kristen Gallagher, American Red Cross
Cover photo credit: Melissa Papini, American Red Cross

The severe weather affected a number of counties throughout Northeast Ohio.  The Red Cross response included volunteers supporting a city warming center in Brunswick Hills during an extended power outage, opening a shelter in the Twinsburg Community Center, where there were 17 overnight stays on Monday and Tuesday, and distributing more than $8,500 in immediate financial assistance for 15 families in Ashland, Erie, Cuyahoga, Wayne and Ashtabula Counties.

But the Amish families in Williamsfield politely declined help offered by the Red Cross. “They have each other,” Kristen said.  “They are an amazing community where everyone is helping and looking out for each other.”

The Power of Volunteers

Stay close to them and to the mission!

By Jorge Martinez, Regional Chief Operating Officer

Editor’s note: As of October 19, 2017, the Red Cross, along with community and government partners, has provided 1.3 million overnight stays in emergency shelters, served more than 6.7 million meals and snacks, and distributed more than 3.6 million emergency relief items to people in need, following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. More than 16,000 trained Red Cross disaster workers, 91% of them volunteers, have been mobilized to support hurricane relief efforts.  Among those workers is Jorge Martinez, who wrote the following upon returning from a three-week assignment in Puerto Rico. 

The Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.  We’ve all heard this before and certainly embrace it.   We wouldn’t be part of this great organization otherwise.  But to see our mission statement in action is special.  I was fortunate enough to be part of the relief operation in Puerto Rico; I saw human suffering alleviated through the compassionate and selfless service of our dedicated and humble volunteers.

IMG_0317Puerto Rico is home to nearly 3.5 million American citizens spread over an island that is roughly 35 miles by 100 miles of challenging, mountainous terrain.  Ravaged by a category 4 hurricane — just 2 MPH shy of a cat 5 — the devastation was immense.  There was no part of the island that was not affected.  What you’ve been seeing on the news is accurate and maybe even understated.  But the island residents have come together with a sense of community that I’ve only experienced one other time – in the aftermath of 9/11.

So there we were in San Juan.  We had two carloads of volunteers that were trailing a supply box truck with a local driver.  We were en route to a remote location in the central mountains of the island with no specific knowledge of how to get there.  On our way out of the city, a police officer who had just finished his 12 hour shift came alongside us and agreed to escort us to the site in what turned out to be a 2 hour trek.  Even he got lost, but he got us there.IMG_0183

Once on site, we met with local officials and determined the best place to help those most in need.  We got to our agreed upon distribution site and while we off-loaded the supplies and set up the operation, the local officials went around the neighborhood spreading the word.  Soon we had a line of hundreds of families that were in need of basic supplies like water, food and tarps.

I met countless wonderful volunteers during my trip and became close with a few of them.  One of them was Brad; he was from Kalamazoo, MI and we were on this trip together.  Near the end of this operation, both he and I were going house to house, delivering supplies to those who could not make it to the pick-up site.  We came across a wonderful lady who had already picked up her supplies.  However, her next door neighbor’s house had been destroyed.  It was a humble place before the storm; now, only a small room had any semblance of a roof still attached.  She had taken her elderly neighbor into her own small home but wanted to get some tarps to cover the few remaining savable items that her neighbor had stored in that small room.imagejpeg_0 (002)

We came back with several tarps for her and gave her a hug.  By the way, at this point a downpour had started.  Mid-hug, she broke down and started to cry.  Coincidentally, Brad and I both had something in our eyes that caused us to tear up as well.  She thanked us profusely while hoping that God bless all of us.  The truth is we were blessed by just being in her presence.  And I was doubly blessed by being in the presence of Brad and the many other volunteers like him.  And no, this was not an isolated incident.

When I first took this job, my predecessor told me to stay close to the mission.  She was mostly right.  Stay close to the mission and to the volunteers!  I want to personally thank the volunteers I had the pleasure to work with in Puerto Rico and the nearly 1,500 volunteers of Northeast Ohio who go quietly about their work without much fanfare.  You make a world of difference — THANK YOU!

See more photos from Jorge’s work in Puerto Rico by clicking here for our Flickr album.

Visit our YouTube page for a video of Jorge’s experience.

Canton Volunteer Reflects on More Than Two Decades of Service

By Nila Welsh, American Red Cross Volunteer, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

(Editor’s note:  Nila Welsh is a Canton-based Disaster Action Team member.  She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1994, and has been assigned to three-dozen national disaster relief operations.  This is her Red Cross story.)

SMLX vols

Red Cross volunteers Nila Welsh, left, and Elinor Carosello

It wasn’t too long after my husband and I returned from the Peace Corps in 1989 that we found we needed something to do.  We lived for two years in an under-developed part of the Solomon Islands, and due to the hot weather on the equator, we had led a quiet life and missed working with people.

One day I read in the newspaper that the Red Cross needed volunteers.  That was 23 years ago, when I first became a part of such a great organization.

After taking all the classes offered and responding to local disasters, we became qualified to respond to national disasters.  Our first call was to respond to flooding in Missouri along the Mississippi River in 1995. Nothing prepares you for the devastation of a flood or hurricane when people have nowhere to go. The Red Cross sets up shelters and we volunteers do our best to help people affected by disasters rebuild their lives.  My husband was a good listener.  He would sit and listen.  People need that – need to know that others care, and that if material things are all they lose, the Red Cross can help.

We found that what matters most in life is how we live and how we treat each other – how we can give back for what we have been blessed with.  People find it hard to believe that we don’t get paid to do what we do. They don’t know what they’re missing.

We don’t know how long we have in this life, but as long as we are here we will continue to do our best.

 

Outpouring of Appreciation from Storm Victims

It’s been seven weeks since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Eastern Texas, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake.

Not long afterward, Hurricane Irma struck the U. S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Then there was Hurricane Maria, causing devastating damage in the USVI and Puerto Rico.

As the American Red Cross, including chapters here in Northeast Ohio,  answered the call to aid those impacted by these devastating storms, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas.  The Red Cross responded again, sending disaster mental health workers, including Renee Palagyi, Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Northeast Ohio Region.  She is among 90 local disaster workers who have been deployed since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast.

And now, we are beginning to send Red Cross workers to California in response to the deadly wildfires there.

As the disaster response continues, many of those affected have offered their thanks to the Red Cross, particularly for providing shelters, meals and comfort, as well as to the donors who make our efforts possible.

 

NEO Volunteers Head to Puerto Rico

Seven NEO Workers to Provide Sheltering, Health Care and IT Support

Among the nearly 5,300 Red Cross workers now responding to hurricane relief efforts across the south are seven Northeast Ohio workers assigned to help people in Puerto Rico.  The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“Here comes the cavalry,” said Jorge Martinez, Regional Chief Operating Officer for the Northeast Ohio Red Cross when asked what message he had for the people of Puerto Rico.  “The Red Cross already had workers on the ground, who were responding to the damage done by Hurricane Irma when Maria struck.  We’re on our way to help as well.”

At a news conference in the lobby of Regional Headquarters in Cleveland, Jorge was flanked by volunteers D. J. Hamrick, Sean Reyes, Rusty Breitbach and Bruce Butler, who have also been assigned to the Puerto Rico relief operation.  Two other Northeast Ohio volunteers, a health care worker and an IT specialist, are already on the island.

More volunteers are needed, especially those who speak Spanish, who are in good physical shape, and who can commit to serving for 2-3 weeks.  Volunteer training sessions are being held each week throughout Northeast Ohio.  Visit redcross.org/neo, or call 216-431-3328 for more information.

Maria Strikes as Our Response to Harvey and Irma Continues

HURRICANE FAST FACTS
September 20, 2017

The American Red Cross has a launched a wide-ranging relief effort to provide safe shelter, food and comfort to people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, even as Hurricane Maria strikes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Red Cross is part of a large team of agencies and organizations responding to provide help to those in need.

Hurricane Maria

  • Overnight, more than 10,000 people were provided refuge in almost 200 government and Red Cross shelters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    • On the U.S. Virgin Islands, 145 people took refuge in 6 evacuation shelters.
    • In Puerto Rico, 10,100 people hunkered down in 173 government evacuation shelters.
    • More than 160 Red Cross disaster workers were positioned in Puerto Rico and the USVI, riding out the storm.  Hundreds more are positioned to deploy where they are needed, with supplies, once the storm passes.

 Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

  • In the last three weeks, the Red Cross and community partners have provided more than 955,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters due to hurricanes.
  • Overnight, almost 3,800 people stayed in 21 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas. To date, there have been more than 400,000 overnight shelter stays provided for Hurricane Harvey.
  • The Red Cross has served more than 3.35 million meals and snacks to people in need.
  • More than 5,800 Red Cross disaster workers and more than 330 emergency response vehicles – nearly our entire vehicle fleet – are on the ground right now, helping thousands of people affected by these storms.
  • More than 76 million hurricane and flood alerts have been issued through Red Cross mobile apps for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
  • 65 workers from Northeast Ohio have been deployed to the hurricane relief efforts, and more are expected to respond to Hurricane Maria.

 

Mexican earthquake

  • Yesterday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico killed hundreds of people.
  • More than 90 ambulances and an urban rescue unit of the Mexican Red Cross are helping search for survivors, transporting the injured to hospitals and providing first aid on the scene.
  • The Mexican Red Cross has deployed dozens of doctors and nurses to help with the response.
  • In all, more than 500 volunteers and staff were activated in the hours immediately following the disaster.
  • 17 urban rescue units, ambulances and logistic units will arrive today with more almost 70 more volunteers and staff.

Volunteer Response from NEO Continues to Grow

Red Cross Relief Operations Continue In Texas and the Southeast

The dual disasters caused by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have mobilized thousands of Red Cross workers, including 60 from Northeast Ohio.

Among the volunteers providing assistance to residents of Texas is Manny Andrews of Akron.

IMG_3752

Akron resident and Red Cross volunteer Manny Andrews

Manny can be seen in this video, helping distribute meals to people in neighborhoods near Houston, where the need for help continues to be great, more than three weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

“They’re just basically cleaning up, and we’re just providing food for them,” said Manny, who  has served with the United States Marine Corps.  “It definitely feels good to know at least I’m doing something.  It’s not a lot, but it’s something they appreciate.”

SMLXVol

Red Cross volunteer Jennifer Hatfield with a hurricane-impacted resident in Brunswick, GA.

Among the Northeast Ohio volunteers helping people affected by Hurricane Irma is Jennifer Hatfield of Ashland.  She is seen in this photo, talking with a woman who was fishing in the Fancy Bluff Creek in Brunswick, Georgia.

It’s the first time the Ohio State Highway Patrol dispatcher has been assigned to a large disaster relief operation.  “We’re helping a lot of Georgia’s impoverished population,” Jennifer said.

The recovery effort is expected to last for months, and the Red Cross is committed to providing the services needed to help people put their lives back together.  But it’s going to take the help of many trained volunteers.  Zero to Hero training sessions continue to be held throughout Northeast Ohio.  Visit redcross.org/neo and click the VOLUNTEER tab to begin the application process.

Here is the latest information on the Red Cross hurricane relief efforts:

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

  • In the last three weeks, the Red Cross and community partners have provided more than 934,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters due to hurricanes. Shelters were opened in 8 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The Red Cross has served more than 3 million meals and snacks to people in need.
  • More than 6,400 Red Cross disaster workers and almost 300 emergency response vehicles are on the ground right now, helping thousands of people affected by these storms.
  • More than 73 million hurricane and flood alerts have been issued through Red Cross mobile apps for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Hurricane Harvey

  • Overnight, more than 4,600 people stayed in 25 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas and Louisiana. To date, there have been nearly 394,000 overnight shelter stays provided for Hurricane Harvey.
  • Along with our partners, we have served more than 2.3 million meals and snacks in Texas and Louisiana.
  • More than 3,500 Red Cross disaster workers are on the ground in Texas and Louisiana, with almost 280 more on the way.
  • More than 170 emergency response vehicles have been activated to help deliver meals and relief supplies across the hardest hit areas of Texas and Louisiana.
  • Mental health and health services professionals have provided nearly 76,000 contacts to provide support and care to people in Texas and Louisiana.
  • We’ve distributed nearly 655,000 relief items like diapers, bug spray, cleaning supplies, coolers, and comfort kits containing deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene items, in Texas and Louisiana.
  • The Red Cross has already distributed $45 million in financial assistance to more than 100,000 qualified households who needed immediate help. This assistance has helped more than 365,000 people including more than 10,000 households headed by military veterans.

Hurricane Irma

  • Overnight, almost 3,600 people were provided refuge in 55 government and Red Cross shelters across Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This includes:
    • In Florida, more than 3,200 people in 47evacuation shelters.
    • In Georgia, 24 people in one shelter.
    • On the U.S. Virgin Islands, 162 people in four evacuation shelters.
    • In Puerto Rico, more than 182 people in three evacuation shelters.
  • To date, evacuation centers have provided more than half a million (541,000) overnight stays to people needing a safe place to go.
  • Along with our partners, we have served more than 747,000 meals and snacks across six states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • We’ve distributed more than 88,000 relief items like diapers, bug spray, cleaning supplies, coolers, and comfort kits containing deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene items across six states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Mental health and health services professionals have provided more than 16,000 contacts to provide support and care to those affected across six states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Nearly 3,000 Red Cross workers are responding to Irma now, with more than 300 more volunteers on the way.
  • More than 120 emergency response vehicles have been activated to help.