Friday, April 13, 2012

STORIES FROM THE FIELD: Red Cross Tornado Relief in Sellersburg, Indiana

After recent devastating tornadoes in Indiana in March, Greater New York Red Cross volunteer Eddie McQuillan was deployed to the IVY TEC Center in Sellersburg, Ind. as a Red Cross public affairs supervisor. Here are some stories from the field Eddie put together during his time in Indiana.  
Henryville, Indiana, two weeks after
the early March tornados of 2012.
Henryville, Ind. is a small town about 15 minutes north (on Rt. 65) of the Ohio River that splits the two states, Kentucky and Indiana. On the Kentucky side, the city of Louisville. Hence people say “Kentucky-ana” or “India-tucky,” depending which side of the river they hail from.
This little roadside house sits on the main corner of the town. Behind it are bowl-like hillsides that show a clear path of destruction. This corridor of devastation is covered in blue tarps, littered with downed trees and flung with assorted debris.  
 This little house stood up to the storm and shows its scars. 

The high school

Behind and to the left is the high school. The gym roof has been ripped off and it also looks like it has a collapsed wall. The photo was taken was from a hillside field before entering town. It shows the effects of an F2 tornado (a "significant tornado" on the Fujita Scale; F2 tornadoes can produce wind speeds of 150 mph) crossing a field and slamming into a building. This is a fully engineered building made of steel beams, concrete and cinder block. 
The church.
Behind and to the right is a church and the first stoplight at the four comers of Henryville. I stopped there and spoke to the pastor and his wife, along with a small group of church volunteers who were getting a little lunch.
The church and parking lot were operating as a Point of Distribution (“POD” in Emergency Management talk), a place people receive donated goods and services. These spring up spontaneously after disasters and are great resources to help community members get back on their feet. Most are run by the volunteer community or organized by faith-based groups.
At the POD I delivered some Red Cross flyers encouraging the local residents to visit the Sellersburg Service Center located at the Ivy Tech College (just on the other side of the Rt. 65 interchange) and the Underwood Service Center.
The folks here seemed to be pleased to have the Red Cross in their town helping out and offering services. That was a good sign. But I hadn’t met any clients yet, and I had just come from the Tech Center. Nobody from the community was there. Had we reached everybody already? We’d been in town two weeks. Not likely.
People in small towns tend to stay with family and friends, so Red Cross shelters were closed. Most people were (I guessed) just catching their breath after two weeks. This was a sunny, warm weekend. A good time to do some clean up, and there was still too much of that to do. Residents would have to self-identify, to show up to the service centers, and ask for help. Not an easy thing for anybody to do.
I’ve seen this before.
Last year I had the privilege to serve in the Red Cross response to the tornados in Alabama and later in Joplin, Missouri. Some were big towns like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham; others were little towns like Hacklesburg and Phil Campbell, Ala. The devastation there was catastrophic.
Here too, in places, it looked much the same. Thankfully there hadn’t been any loss of life here in Henryville and neighboring Marysville.
The early part of an incident is the “response phase.” That’s when police, fire and EMS pour into the towns to help the injured, performing first aid and rescue operations, restoring order and assessing the full scope of the disaster. Two weeks on, these folks were into the “recovery phase,” the long slog of clean-up and getting back to a new normal.
The aftermaths of natural disasters are dirty, dusty and overwhelming. The reality of not being able to restore things to the way they were sinks in. People crash after two weeks of running on adrenalin, fixing things and caring for people.
About now is when people are tired, testy and just want it all to go away. This is a tough wall to climb when you’re exhausted and know you can’t do it all yourself.
The pride of a little house stands as a backdrop to this effort.
Red Cross volunteer Bethany Dusseou talks about how a family she met made it through the tornadoes that struck their community

First-time volunteer Bethany Dusseou from Indiana
registered people for Red Cross assistance
at the Underwood Service Center..
A 62-year Indiana resident told Bethany how she and her grandson ran into their dug-out shelter just minutes after hearing tornado alerts on TV. The grandmother remembered that the door was off the shelter. She said and friends used to play in it when she was young; they’d swing on the door, and it had fallen off years earlier.

The grandmother described watching with her grandson through the open door as the tornado came through and destroyed their mobile home. It then came back and spun everything around again.

When the tornado finally passed, they tried to find their home, but it was gone. They walked around thinking they would find a big part of it, but it was literally broken into small pieces.

They told Bethany, that’s when they decided to go for help. But they couldn’t get down the road because of trees and “big stuff” in the road that they were unable to move.

They decided to drive through the woods the cross the creek behind what had been their mobile home. The Grandmother drove the pickup; her grandson walked out in front in the water, looking for stumps or deep holes. It took them some time to find other people; when they did, nobody knew what to do. Cell phones didn’t work and it was getting dark. They went back across the creek.

The grandmother told Bethany she had a feeling she should return to her house, even though it literally wasn’t there anymore. When they got back, family members, fearing the worst, were searching the woods for her and her grandson.

The grandmother reported having a tearful reunion when they found each other. She said she and her family thank the Red Cross for listening and being there to help them at the service center.

Bethany was able to offer direct assistance to the grandmother and her grandson, helping them get food and temporary housing through the Red Cross.

“I’m glad I joined the Red Cross and deployed here to Henryville,” Bethany said. “Being here to listen and give assistance has made me feel that as a volunteer, I’m part of something that really helps people.”


Family Receives Red Cross Help after Indiana Tornado

Tabitha P., her mom and three boys, register
for Red Cross assistance at the
Ivy Tech Center in Sellersburg, Ind.
"We were really lucky,” Tabitha said, “a lot of people have it a lot worse. At first we didn’t think we needed help, but when we got back to the house, it was still a really big mess.”

Red Cross caseworkers helped guide Tabitha and her mom through the process of registering for Red Cross services, and explaining what type of services they would qualify for.

“I’m glad we came down here to do this,” Tabitha said. “It’s not easy asking for help. I would tell people it’s been good to come here; it’s helped us to heal and little, and the Red Cross volunteers have been great.”

Photos and story by Ed McQuillan
Public Affairs Supervisor DRO KY/IN TOR

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