RED CROSS ALABAMA
TORNADOES – 4/24/10 – 10:30 p.m.
“THERE WAS AN EIGHTEEN-MILE PATH OF DESTRUCTION WITH 155 MPH/WINDS IN THE TOWN OF ALBERTVILLE, ALABAMA”
THE RED CROSS-SERVED MORE THAN 25,000 MEALS, DRINKS AND SNACKS.
WE DISTRIBUTED 350 CLEAN UP KITS, (RAKES, SHOVELS, WORK GLOVES, GARBAGE BAGS, ETC.)
WE HANDED OUT 520 COMFORT KITS (SOAP, DEODORANT, COMBS, TOOTHBRUSHES, TOOTH PASTE, ETC.)
In working with the Red Cross you have to have a bag packed and be ready to go on a moment’s notice. When I got the call from my Chapter in Jacksonville I was working at Volunteers In Medicine (VIM) downtown Jacksonville.
If you are called for a National Red Cross disaster you are expected to give them an immediate answer as to whether you can go or not. Since I experienced my first tornado in Ozark, Alabama, I figured it was destined for me to go. So I picked up my paper work at my Red Cross Chapter and found myself on a plane at 6:15 a.m. the next morning headed for Huntsville, AL.
My husband was based at Fort Rucker in Ozark, Alabama in 1971. He had just come back from Viet Nam. We lived in a trailer park and about mid-day the sun turned from bright sky to darkened night. We thought that was very odd, because it was like someone turned a light off. Then the eerie stillness and quiet impacted us. We were from New York, so what did we know about tornadoes? Suddenly the rain, hail and siren seemed to come all at once. My husband told me we needed to take cover because there was a tornado coming. I will never forget him putting my motorcycle helmet on my head and telling me we needed to get into the closet. The banging on the trailer from the hail was like the devil was knocking on our door. Tornadoes are like evil spirits gone array. They have no mercy and show no discrimination. We had been very blessed not to be swept away with that tornado. We since lived in Oklahoma and Kansas. We used to watch the tornadoes from afar and some up very close. We once saw one move along the housetops and could see the debris circling around like garbage in a giant washing machine. Several times we had to sit in the basement listening to the awful wind howl and hear the trees bang into each other. For some reason, which I am very grateful for, it always missed our home.
I arrived at the Huntsville airport and was instructed to call a phone number when I arrived for further instructions. I felt like Jim Phelps on “Mission Impossible.” After calling the number I was then instructed to go to Avis and rent a car and go to the address I would receive from “Avis.” Da-Da-Dunm-Dunm! They were nice enough to give me a map. I didn’t want to take my GPS because I already had too much stuff to take with me. My husband would have been proud of me because I found the town and Head Quarters with no trouble at all. Well, to be honest, I did go the wrong way on the highway and had to turn around and go back west instead of east. Remember, I am dyslectic so I really wasn’t lost, so that doesn’t count. I knew I missed the turn off, but it did take an extra ten miles on time and gas to get back to the place I needed to turn.
After I checked in at HQ and was oriented to Red Cross responsibilities, goals, expectations, and assigned duties I was immediately sent to a local church that was set up for “Client Case Services.” It was in a Spanish community and none of the clients spoke English. We did have two caseworkers that spoke Spanish and translated for us, but it was a struggle from the get go.
When we got back to HQ I was still not assigned a place to sleep. There had been”Mass” Shelters”, opened but no one came, so they had to be closed. In a Southern community such as the one we were in, the people are very community oriented and most of the folks had already abandoned their homes and moved in with family. I didn’t get assigned a place to rest my head until 7:30 p.m. and my roommate and I didn’t get checked into the hotel until 9:30 p.m. I was one tired puppy. However, I appreciated, and thanked the Lord, that I did have a place to rest my head. So many didn’t and had lost everything. We had to report back to HQ by 7:30 a.m.
The next day was very confusing. I was told I was assigned to be a staff nurse for the “STAFF”, but the other staff nurse said she already had someone coming for that position. So no one seemed to know what to do with me. They seemed over staffed for “Client Case Work.” But the Lord put me in a much better place. They were short on help for the ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) so I jumped at the chance to get away from the mass confusion that can happen when HQ is first set up. People were signing in from all over the neighboring counties and states. There were a lot from Florida. So I was happy to get out and mix with the people who really needed my help.
We first loaded the ERV with supplies from a huge truck that came from one of the Red Cross storage facilities. This particular one came from a WalMart that just stores supplies for the Red Cross. While on the ERV I was also instructed to do nursing assessments on anyone who needed medical assistance. There were three of us, the driver, his navigator, and myself. We went to DeKalb County located in the mountains. Apparently the DAT (Disaster Assessment Team) just found out that no one from the Red Cross had known about this area. Our ERV was packed full with shovels, rakes, work gloves, clean up kits, garbage bags, water, etc).
Now you may all remember that I am “accident prone”, so it won’t surprise you when I tell you that not only once, but twice, the boxes came loose and hit me in the head and back. Fortunately the boxes were the lighter ones containing the clean up kits. We had all the boxes secure, but the mountain roads and debris strewn all around made it rough riding.
Being a nurse I could assess myself and say, “I’m fine let’s move on.” When I got back to the hotel I did count my black and blue marks and hoped there would be no more.
MIRACLE STORIES…NO FATALITIES
When we finished covering the mountain and giving out as many supplies as we could we empty the remaining supplies from the ERV into a storage garage.
The next day I was once again in another ERV covering a different area. My ERV driver was a 78-year-old woman, so don’t ever use the excuse that you can’t help. Today we were dispersing food. The “Yellow Shirts” is an organized group of Southern Baptist’s that cooks for the Red Cross. The Red Cross supplies the money and they do all the cooking. They work really hard and everyone knows the Baptist’s love to eat and they are great cooks. The ERV’s were based at a recreation center that was set up for the fire fighter’s and all the volunteers. The amazing thing about these Alabama tornados were that they left the down town areas completely intact. So business went on as usual. In fact, they did quiet well with all the volunteers, electricians, construction workers, tree trimmers, and contractors. The hotels were filled.
A fire fighter told me that many of the folks were unable to cook, because they had no electricity so this recreation center was set up and received donations of food from all over the counties. He also said many did not have electricity because they had no power due to people stealing copper. Good and evil becomes so obvious when there is a tragedy.
Today was rainy, windy with darkened clouds, and threatening more storms and tornados through the day. I could only imagine!
MORE AMAZING SITES…
The newspaper headlines “School Starts Again Today.” Once that happens there is hope that life will go back to normal. I was on the ERV again and we concentrated on the trailer parks with known illegals because they are afraid to ask for help. There are three to four families living inside one trailer. These trailer parks had minimal damage, but they were without electricity for a week, so we continued to bring them two meals a day and assist with giving them help with clothes, food, and money. Things are getting under control now. Many trees have been cleared from the roads. The Red Cross mission is coming to an end. We notified the people in the trailer parks that we were giving them a 24-hour notice that we would no longer be bringing them food. We had done our job and assisted them all we could. We referred them a local Spanish community church where they could get food and clothing after the Red Cross left the area. Many of them were humble and grateful but some tried to work the system as in a lot of cases.
My supervisor rode in her car behind the ERV to evaluate my performance and how I dealt with the clients and their medical issues. We were diverted from the ERV to assess a 15-month-old child that was referred by a mental health nurse who had seen the family the day before. The child had fallen and had a contusion on her forehead and a laceration on her nose. The mother said she had fallen due to having no lights on because they had no electricity. The child was in no acute distress so all I could do was advise her mother to take her child to the Emergency Room. I stressed to her that even though her child had no fever, and appeared to be fine, she may not be, because hitting her head could turn into a serious problem. The child had Down’s syndrome so I worried that her mother might not even be able to tell if she was really hurt. They, too, were illegal’s and did not speak English. I was very thankful that the nurse with me was able to translate my assessment to her. My guess is she did not take her to the ER.
My son lives in Birmingham, Alabama, about an hour away from where I was staying, in a little town called Boaz, Alabama. So he came and took me out to dinner after we finished on the ERV. What a blessing that was.
I was assigned to the ERV again. We notified the folks that this would be the last time the trailer parks would receive two meals from the Red Cross. The next day they would only receive lunch. Two ERV’s were eliminated yesterday and we were down to three now. Some of the trailers got back their electricity. The Red Cross had given out money, clothing, bedding, food, supplies, as well as medical and mental health assistance.
This was the last day the ERV fed the people in the trailer parks lunch. Someone asked, “What are we going to do?” All the electricity was back on so I guessed they would cook again. Since the Red Cross was winding down and reassigning and processing people to go to the Tennessee floods or home I got to see my son again.
We continued to follow up with clients that were not contacted or homes assessed. The order came from Corporate that the Red Cross would be closing on 5/8/10. I was sent out with a mental health nurse and two client caseworkers to check on an elderly woman who was referred to us by another mental health nurse from the day before. We were told she also had health issues. I was praised the Lord that the mental health nurse was with me, because this poor lady just cried her heart out. Later I told the mental health nurse if I had any more clients like her I would need a mental health nurse. She lived alone but while we were there someone from the church came by to tell her they would get someone out to remove the huge tree that was uprooted and lay in her front yard. She forgot to take her diabetic medicine, her high blood pressure medicine, and her Coumadin (blood thinner) medicine. She did have two daughters that lived in the area and she assured us they were checking in on her. It was ideal to have a mental health nurse and a medical nurse team to go out on these adventures. While I was doing my nursing, taking blood pressure, dressing a wound, and assessing her, the mental nurse was talking to her and calming her down. The client caseworkers were assessing the damage to her home. In a perfect world this really would work great, and in fact, it did.
I reported to HQ for processing to go home. However, one last detail was asked of me and that was to go to Lake Guntersville National Park to help set up a Red Cross tent for a fund raiser at a Bass tournament that was going to be held the next day. The park was beautiful and I can only hope the Red Cross got a lot of donations to help all their neighbors in need.
Everybody managed to find a ride back to Huntsville airport. My roommate and I were on the same plane to Atlanta. She went on to her destination from Atlanta and I was happy to be going back to my home that was safe and intact in Jacksonville, Florida.
NEWS FLASH …5/11/10 – TODAY’S NEWS REPORTED THAT THIRTY-SEVEN TORNADOES TOUCHED DOWN IN PARTS OF OKLAHOMA AND KANSAS YESTERDAY.
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FYI – If you want your donation to go to a particular disaster, or stay in your local town you must put that on your checks.
Estelle P. Shrum – Author of, He Is The Word
My website: www.heistheword.com