Locals volunteer to aid hurricane victims

SANDUSKY Sandusky resident Joe Ann Bonner could tell from looking out her plane's window that the si
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Sandusky resident Joe Ann Bonner could tell from looking out her plane's window that the situation was not good in Baton Rouge.

Darkness enveloped the Louisiana city. The only light cutting through the night sky emitted from the airport.

"Baton Rogue was hit bad because the storm that (blew) through there tore down all these trees and hit the wires," the 57-year-old said. "That's why the electricity was out. People couldn't feed themselves because refrigerators were all out, and the stores were all closed."

A volunteer with the Firelands chapter of the Red Cross for three years, Bonner said she was deployed to Baton Rouge on Sept. 5. She was one of 32 local and 19,000 national Red Cross volunteers who headed to the Gulf Coast to assist in disaster relief efforts followinghurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Hurricane Gustav was no Katrina, but on its heels cameHurricane Ike.

Combined, the tropical storms flooded entire regions of the states along the Gulf Coast, displacing as many as 1 million residents. National reports indicate thetotal cost of damages from both hurricanes is second only to Katrina.

For two weeks, Bonner helped feed evacuees hot meals twice a day. It was not uncommon for her to serve meals and clean 12 hours every day.

Deborah Keith, 52, of Vermilion used several of her vacation days to work 20-hour days providingassistance to evacuees in need.

"I worked with my employer and they gave me some time off, and I also took some vacation as well," she said

A registered nurse, Keith provided additional skills to response efforts.

She traveled to a rural part of southeast Texas on Sept. 11, two days before Hurricane Ike made landfall. She was stationed in a "safe zone" where evacuees from southern Texas were sent to stay at temporary shelters.

Evacuations can come so unexpectedly that residents often forget to pack many necessities, including medication. Using her medical training, Keith helped distribute medication and also took care of any other basic services.

"We would get their symptoms and see what their needs were -- anything from 'I have a sore throat' to possibly needing medication that was left behind, because they didn't have time to get their medicine," Keith said. "There was probably a small amount that were in desperate need, and then you had a gray zone of a day or two to get some folks their medicine."

Without the Red Cross, many Texans and Louisiana residents wouldn't have had a safe place to stay or a reliable source of nourishment.

As of Tuesday, the American Red Cross had served 3.3 million meals and 3.8 million snacks to people located in all 14 impacted states, said Eilene Guy, disaster public affairs volunteer from the Firelands chapter.

"We have also provided more than 360,000 overnight stays in more than 900 shelters," the Sandusky retiree said.

Guy is stationed in the New Orleans area, where the Red Cross operational headquarters is situated. She returns home Sunday.

Gustav was primarily a wind event that felled trees, limbs and power lines, and also caused structural damage to businesses and homes.

Ike brought the rain -- tons of it -- flooding many parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Together, the storms turned rural Louisiana into a snapshot of devastation, Guy said.

Shrimp boats are marooned inland. Mud cakes the streets. Tree limbs and debris litter the ground.

Cleanup and repairs will take months and relief operations continue in the region. But dispatches from the front lines led Ron Rude to say the peak of the need has passed.

"It's nearing the tail end of the assignment," said Rude, who is executive director of the Firelands chapter.

Even so, the number and scope of the disasters this year have severely drained Red Cross' funds. Officials are asking members of the community to contribute to the agency's disaster relief fund to help build it back up.

Hurricane season, after all, lasts until December.