Red Cross responds to NEO tornado touchdown and other spring storms

Local volunteers assist residents in Shelby, Ohio and elsewhere

By Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

April 15, 2019 – Spring is usually welcome here in Northeast Ohio, but the tornado strike this week in Richland County is a stark reminder that the season can turn nasty.

“We have a shelter on standby for tonight (Monday) at the Shelby YMCA Community Center, and volunteers in an emergency response vehicle going through damaged areas of the community, offering meals as folks work to recover their belongings,” said Tim O’Toole, American Red Cross regional disaster officer for Northeast Ohio.

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Red Cross volunteer Bill Conley in Shelby, Ohio

“We also have teams there doing damage assessment so we can sit down with people whose homes were damaged or destroyed and help them with immediate and longer-term assistance.”

Meanwhile, Mother Nature has been particularly aggressive elsewhere in the country, with the South strafed by multiple tornado outbreaks and the Midwest hit with “bomb cyclones,” tornadoes and historic flooding.

The Red Cross has mustered hundreds of disaster workers – including men and women from our area – to bring comfort to victims of these severe weather events.

“I had seen pictures of the flooding before I left, but when I got out there I was totally amazed by the damage,” said veteran Red Cross volunteer Rick Whitehead of Willoughby, Ohio, who spent 10 days in Lincoln, Neb. “In some places you could barely see the tops of houses.”

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Red Cross volunteer Rick Whitehead

Rapid melting after a freak snowstorm swelled rivers so fast “some towns were literally islands,” he said. National Guard helicopters airlifted Red Cross shelter personnel, food and water into some Nebraska communities, cut off by high water, and ruined roads and bridges.

For the scope of flooding across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Wisconsin, the Red Cross has done relatively little sheltering: 6,300 overnight stays. But it has provided help in one form or another to some 7,760 households: 65,000 meals, more than 1,000 cases of water, and nearly 39,000 cleanup kits and supplies such as diapers, bleach and other items not readily available in stranded communities.

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And it’s not over yet. Kevin Jones of Brunswick, Ohio, who is helping keep Red Cross field computer systems running in Omaha, said another flood crest is working its way down the Missouri River. “Some communities will get hit again,” he predicted.

“Looks like it’s going to be a busy year” for disaster response, the veteran volunteer observed.

Indeed, deadly storms raked Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia several weeks ago, and just days ago, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi got hit. The Red Cross is responding wherever shelter, food, medical and emotional support, and relief supplies are needed.

The Red Cross has tips to keep yourself and your family and loved ones safe at https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/Spring-Brings-Its-Own-Severe-Weather-Get-Ready-Now.html

“We’re just coming into prime tornado season and already we have disaster workers helping one community,” O’Toole said. “But we’re ready. That’s the strength of the Red Cross, having trained responders all over who can help their neighbors or folks across the country they’ve never met, no matter what the emergency.”

To become a trained volunteer to help victims of disasters here in Northeast Ohio or across the country, visit redcross.org/volunteer or call 216-431-3328.

When Waters Rise, NEO Red Cross Responds – an Update

By Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross volunteer

Combine rapidly melting snow with heavy rainfall, and there’s always the possibility for river flooding. Last February, those conditions occurred throughout the upper Midwest states.

From our Northeast Ohio chapters alone, 28 disaster staff were deployed throughout Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.  First and foremost, shelters were opened for those whose homes were in danger of flooding. A safe and warm place to stay was extremely welcomed by those affected. Health service related needs were also attended to by our other volunteers.

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Red Cross volunteers prepare to assist flood victims in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Photo provided by Monica Bunner/American Red Cross volunteer

Monica Bunner, a Disaster Action Team member from the Summit, Portage & Medina chapter, was one of the first from this area to be deployed. Originally dispatched to a moderate-sized shelter in a high school in southern Ohio, she and her team provided a warm place to stay overnight as well as a place to come during the day to warm up, shower and recharge both the body and the cellphone.

Monica recalls one of the first residents to come to the shelter (and probably the last to leave) was an elderly gentleman who needed to be woken up at 3:30 am each day.  He would then walk into town and work 16-hour shifts at a fast food restaurant. Arriving back at the shelter in the evening, he would have dinner and immediately retire, only to repeat the cycle the next day.  His resilience to the situation touched everyone who met him.

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Volunteers in New Richmond, Ohio

Another resident had been living in a trailer near the water, and as the level of the river rose, he recounted that a number of kittens living below his trailer started poking their heads up through the vents in his floor. He quickly reached down to grab as many as he could and brought them with him to the local animal shelter.  Each day he would leave the shelter and walk back to his neighborhood looking for other kittens to save. In all, he rescued eight kittens during the week Monica worked at the shelter.

After a week, Monica was reassigned to DES (Distribution of Emergency Supplies) across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, sometimes driving as much as three and one-half hours to reach affected areas.

Red Cross volunteers like Monica respond to emergencies thousands of times each year. It is only through the generous donations of Americans that we can always be ready to respond whenever an emergency threatens.  Please consider donating today at redcross.org/neo.