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.