The Heart of the Mission: Red Cross Volunteers Assess California Storm Damage
Story and Photos by Marcia Antipa, Public Affairs Volunteer
After weeks of heavy rain and high winds, the sun has come out again in California. However, the American Red Cross disaster response continues. More than 800 trained Red Cross volunteers from nearly all 50 states have been supporting people in the affected communities. Eighty shelters were opened during the disaster, and the Red Cross, working with community partners, distributed thousands of meals and relief items such as comfort kits and cleaning supplies. Now, as people slowly move toward recovery, volunteer Red Cross Disaster Assessment Teams are spreading out through storm-ravaged communities, taking stock of damage to homes.
“The assessment gives us information on the homes that were destroyed or had major damage,” says DA volunteer Joe Baldi of Sacramento.
Baldi and fellow volunteer Dianna Soula of Lancaster, Ohio recently visited an apartment complex in Marin County, California. During the heavy rains, a mud-soaked hillside slammed into one of the buildings, making it uninhabitable. The two walked through thick mud to view the home, then documented the damage using guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That information helps the Red Cross and its partner agencies provide assistance for those displaced by the disaster.
Right now, more than a dozen of Disaster Assessment teams have “boots on the ground” in California. Volunteers Howard Wilkens of Kansas City, MO and Alan Gharibian of Glendale, CA, took a preliminary Disaster Assessment tour of the Sonoma County town of Guerneville along the Russian River. After days of heavy rain, the river was swollen, muddy and threatening to crest its banks. The two men visited the Guerneville Fire Department to get information on which neighborhoods were hardest hit. Wilkens, who has deployed for the Red Cross to 30 disasters across the country in five years, explains just some of the damage they look for after a storm.
“For example, we look for water lines on the side of the house, broken joists on the roof decking, or homes where the winds have blown off the siding or the roof shingles.”
Alan Gharibian recently deployed to Hurricanes Nicole and Ian in Florida. He says the devastation and the suffering in the wake of the hurricanes was “heartbreaking, to say the least.” But he says he is happy to volunteer again, using his 37 years of experience in the insurance business to help assess the damage in California.
Ultimately, Disaster Assessment volunteers are the heart of the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.
“It’s the Red Cross’s goal to assist them in any way they can,” says Dianna Soula, “to get them into a recovery state, someplace where they’re safe, have comforts and feeding, and medication that they needed, and just try to get their life back on track as quickly as we can.”
To find out how you can help those hit by the California storms, visit redcross.org.