Deployment Diary: Damage in the Old Neighborhood

I work for a disaster relief organization, but until today I had never seen a disaster in a place that I once considered home. Belmar, N.J. is a shore town about 90 minutes south of New York.  It’s wonderfully quiet in the winter and way too busy in the summer.  I used to live along Ocean Avenue, in the first apartment building across from the boardwalk.

Today, I was in a car surveying damage when I realized that we had driven into my old neighborhood.   There were more trees cut in half and uprooted than I could count. Roads were closed. Sand had worked its way off the

The boardwalk in Belmar, N.J. was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and pieces of it were strewn about the neighborhood.

beach and covered the street like snow. Light poles were tilted over and bent at odd angles. A lake near the ocean had flooded and in some places there was still a few feet of water on the ground. It was very surreal and then it became even more so.

The driver unknowingly pulled to a stop in front of my old building.  The building itself is still standing, but sand from the beach across the street had formed a berm about five feet high on the front lawn. Debris was everywhere. Large planks from what used to be the boardwalk were strewn about. The boardwalk itself was completely gone. We saw pieces of it a few blocks inland.

I spoke with two people who live there – one of whom actually lives in my old apartment. He said they’re cold, uncomfortable and still have more than a foot of water in the basement. They’ve set up a grill in the parking lot and are sitting by it to cook and in an attempt to stay warm. I also met a lady who was in tears.  She said that they can’t get any information because they’ve been without power for so long that the batteries in their radios and flashlights are dead. She asked for help. When I told her it was on the way, she was so grateful that she almost cried again.

Some of my happiest memories are from that neighborhood. I still can’t quite believe what’s happened to it. And, as bad as the damage is, it’s nothing compared to some other areas.  But the Red Cross is helping, in New Jersey and across the east coast. We’ve deployed mobile kitchens that can cook nearly 200,000 meals each day, 230 response vehicles and 3,300 disaster workers.  Even more help is on the way, but we can’t do it alone.

The American Red Cross isn’t a government agency and we provide all of our disaster assistance free of charge. Superstorm Sandy was very large and our response to it will be quite costly.  Please consider helping our efforts by visiting RedCross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a one-time $10 contribution.

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Deployment Diary: Seeking Shelter, Finding Inspiration

Last night, more than 9,000 people stayed in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. The night before that number was 11,000… and I was one of them.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I get to assist on disaster relief operations.  On Monday night, I rode out the storm with some new friends at a high school in Pottstown, Penn.

One of those new friends came to the shelter with his wife, sons and dog (there was an area set up for pets) after the storm had blown out the windows in his home.  But he wasn’t your “average” shelter resident… he was also a Red Cross volunteer.

About 15 years ago, Charles Reith lost his home in a fire and the Red Cross helped.  Soon after, he and his daughter became volunteers – and they still volunteer today.  Even though a disaster was hitting home for the Reith family yet again, they were still concerned with helping others.

Charles sat at the registration desk almost all night, helping to welcome others who had also been affected by the storm.  His daughter spent the night working at a shelter nearby.

There’s something special about people who volunteer, but there’s something genuinely amazing about Red Cross volunteers.  It is honor to work alongside them.

Santa Ana Winds May be Coming, but the Wildfire App is Already Here

Santa Ana winds are expected tonight and with them a red flag warning, which means that there is also a high risk of fire danger.  Although we all hope that no fires occur, the Red Cross has released a free smartphone app to help everyone be aware of the risks and have a plan in place in case they do.

The Wildfire app, which can be found on iTunes and on the Google Play store, features interactive tools to help you prepare and let your friends and family know that you’re safe.  One of the most interesting things about the app, at least in my opinion, is a quiz on the wildfire history of the user’s location.

I knew that Orange County is a fairly high-risk area – I work for the Red Cross, how could I not? – but I had no idea that there have been more than 2,100 wildfires within 100 miles. As a comparison, there have “only” been 1,200 earthquakes within 250 miles.

Those stats, and today’s red flag warning, are not a reason to panic, but they should be an incentive to prepare.  Download the app, take a look at our preparedness tips, and, at the very least, please know how to evacuate and what items you truly would hate to lose.

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month

Gosh, that’s a mouthful! But as a dog owner and general animal lover, this topic is very important to me (even if they slobber all over your keyboard while you’re trying to write a blog post). Though we’re nearing the end of April, it’s never too late to prepare for our four-legged family members.

Did you know that, along with our courses in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding, and babysitting, the American Red Cross offers Pet First Aid? In fact, it’s one of the more popular classes in Orange County (I like to think it’s because we’re so pet-friendly). You can even order the companion book complete with DVD for cats or dogs.

It’s also very important to know how to help our pets during a disaster. Beforehand, while you’re putting together your emergency kit, make one for your pet as well. Include things like a pet first aid kit, medications and medical records (including vaccinations), and pet supplies (leashes, carriers, food, etc.). We even have this handy checklist to help you. And you can visit the Pet and Disaster Safety section of our website for more info.

But what about our other furry/feathered/scaly/shelled friends? I wouldn’t want to leave my horse/parrot/lizard/turtle out in the cold. Visit the Humane Society website for disaster preparedness resources for other animals and take their quiz to find out if you’re ready. While you’re at it, stop by our buddies at RedCrossDog or follow them on Twitter for great tips on how to prepare for and respond to pet emergencies.

When planning for disasters, remember: pets are people, too!

Weather Doesn’t Care

Unlike the aftershocks of earthquakes, which normally hit an earthquake-stricken area multiple times within a year or two, tornadoes in the same area are not a common phenomenon.  The Red Cross last week, however, began sending volunteers back to Alabama in another season of tornadoes, not too long after last year’s response.  The relief efforts are ongoing, and the organization continues its mission to always respond to disasters, no matter the scale or the frequency.

Surprisingly, California isn’t immune to tornadoes, as we’ve seen in hard rainfall and high winds among recent years.  There’s always a reason to be prepared for any emergency, including wind-related disasters.  Click here for more on the Alabama tornadoes and how you can stay safe when you’re in an area that has been issued a tornado warning.