This information was last updated on Tuesday, January 31 at 11:00 a.m.Please check back regularly for updates.
As Californians continue cleaning up after the weeks of severe weather at the beginning of January, the American Red Cross is helping and will also be there in the days and weeks to come, supporting people as they move towards recovery.
This online story map offers a look at the ongoing response to the California floods. Since New Year’s eve:
Almost 800 trained Red Cross disaster workers are supporting people in California.
The Red Cross and partners have provided more than 9,300 stays in more than 80 shelters, more than 62,400 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 14,700 relief items such as comfort kits and other relief supplies.
Trained Red Cross volunteers are helping families cope during this challenging time and replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment like canes and wheelchairs.
Teams on the ground are also conducting damage assessments to determine the impact of these storms and which communities will need additional support moving forward. Preliminary damage reports indicate that of the 5879 total assessments done to date, 134 homes were either destroyed or suffered major damage.
We Need You!
While trained Red Cross volunteers and staff continue to manage the response efforts, we are looking for additional volunteers to help with disaster response and recovery activities, including feeding, supply distribution, clean-up kit building and more. Apply online to become a Red Cross volunteer by visiting tinyurl.com/ARC2023FloodsApplication if you are interested in helping with this response or responses like this in the future.
Blood During Disasters
The Red Cross is working to maintain a stable blood supply amid the threat of storms and winter weather across the country, as severe weather often causes widespread blood drive cancellations. Where it is safe to do so, we encourage donors to make and keep blood donation appointments by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Help Those in Need
You can help people affected by disasters like floods, fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief.Donations for Disaster Relief enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation..
Stay Up-to-Date on Social Media
Updated information on the Red Cross response to this storm, and preparedness information is continually updated on regional social media channels:
A shark bite survivor reflects on the people – and blood donors – who saved him.
“Hold my ankle!”
Steve Bruemmer heard the command but struggled to comply. Issued by a stranger, repeatedly, the words were out of focus, fleeting. Hold my ankle. Yet Steve knew he had to try; his life depended on it. Facedown on a surfboard, he reached for the stranger’s ankle as his body floundered. A froth of bloody seawater churned around him, while somewhere – below? nearby? – the great white shark that had bitten him only moments before lurked beneath the surface.
“It’s very, very rare that great white sharks bite humans, so I was quite unlucky to have been bit, but very lucky in that I didn’t die.”
June 22, 2022 was a splendid California summer day. Blue skies and a calm, clear sea beckoned for an open water swim. An experienced swimmer and athlete, Steve, 62, donned his wet suit and set out from Lover’s Point Beach in Pacific Grove for an out-and-back, one and half mile swim. Paddleboarders, beach goers, and a small group of surfers learning water safety dotted the area.
A mere 150 yards from shore on the return leg of his swim, a 15-foot, 2,000-pound Great White shark pummeled him with a bomb-like blast so forceful that he didn’t immediately register he’d been bitten. Likely mistaking him for a seal, the shark had sliced into both of Steve’s thighs and abdomen, delivering near-fatal injuries that rendered him unable to swim.
“After I was bit, I tried to float on my back and looked at my legs. Where there should’ve been wet suit and skin, there was just red.”
A volunteer with the Monterey Aquarium, Steve is deliberate with his choice of words: the shark bit him, it did not attack him. There is no lingering resentment, and he chalks up his encounter to bad luck. Yet the uncanny string of the right people in the right place at the right time that all aligned to save his life that day can only be described as incredibly good luck.
The paddleboarders – a vacationing couple from Folsom, in town to celebrate their anniversary – heard Steve’s cries for help, as did several of the surfers on the beach. One surfing instructor, Heath, grabbed his board and a spare board and immediately paddled out to Steve.
“As Heath approached me, he was looking around for a shark and could see, as he put it, a ‘cloud of blood’ around me, about the size of a car. I was bleeding profusely.”
Heath helped him up onto the spare board and instructed Steve to hold onto his ankle while he paddled them both back to shore. The Folsom couple – Paul and Aimee – had also paddled over to help. Paul, a police officer, dialed 9-1-1 from his paddleboard; Aimee, a nurse, helped Steve.
“Aimee recognized that I was going to fall off the board, I couldn’t control my legs. She jumped off her paddle board and onto the back of my surfboard to hold my legs and help paddle us to shore. Blood is pouring off me, the water is red; she thought she was chumming the water with her own legs.”
Once on shore, with paramedics en route, Steve’s luck continued: of the beach goers, one was a physician and two were ICU nurses. They wasted no time cutting off Steve’s wet suit and securing three makeshift tourniquets. Fading in and out of consciousness, Steve was deathly pale; Paul tried and failed to find a pulse as the ambulance arrived.
Steve was transported to Natividad Hospital, a Level II Trauma Center in Salinas, California. Within 19 minutes of his arrival, he was in surgery. His internal temperature was 91 degrees. He would go on to spend a total of three weeks at Natividad, including time in the ICU. Remarkably, he suffered no broken bones, internal bleeding, or organ damage. Miraculously, the shark missed his pelvic iliac artery by millimeters, skirting certain death.
In addition to a skilled medical team, 33 units of blood helped save his life.
“I knew I was very, very badly hurt and there was a lot of blood. I didn’t connect that with ‘Oh I’m going to need blood’ but I knew I was in grave danger of dying.”
When asked if he’d been a blood donor prior to the shark bite, Steve responded “No, I’d given blood a couple of times before, but I was not a regular blood donor.” He’s quick to add, slightly chagrinned, “That’s a mistake that I will rectify going forward.”
According to the American Red Cross, a 150-180 lb. adult will have approximately 1.2-1.5 gallons (or 10 units) of blood in their body, comprising approximately 10 percent of an adult’s weight. Having arrived at Natividad nearly exsanguinated, Steve was in dire need of a transfusion. During his hospital stay, he would receive 13 units of plasma, 18 units of packed red blood cells and two units of platelets. The experience has changed his perception of blood donation and blood donors.
“I was lucky in that anonymous, good Samaritan blood donors had done the selfless work of giving of themselves to save a stranger.”
In the U.S., the need for blood is constant with someone needing blood on average every two seconds. The blood supply is nearly always chasing demand, as, like Steve used to, many Americans don’t make blood donation a priority in their day-to-day lives. In recent years, largely due to upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like the Red Cross have faced blood shortage emergencies and struggled to motivate the public to roll up their sleeves when lockdowns were prevalent and open blood drives were scarce. Even today, when much of American life has found its post-Covid pace, it can still be a challenge to stock the shelves with an adequate supply of blood and blood products. Steve wants to change that and is using his story to inspire others into action.
“I have a great support system – just unmatched.”
Following his ordeal in June, Steve’s family, friends and community rallied around him, delivering meals, offering support, and in August, donating at a Red Cross blood drive in his honor. Later in October, Steve and his wife Brita hosted a thank-you picnic for everyone who played a part in his rescue and recovery: the Natividad medical staff, friends, family, church members, members of his running, swimming and cycling groups. In all, about 200 people turned out for Steve and Brita; also in attendance was a to-scale cardboard cutout of the great white shark. In a group photo from that day, the cutout is held up in front by nine people. It is an enormous animal.
During the picnic, Steve asked the group how many were blood donors.
“Lots and lots of hands went up,” he recalled. He followed that up by asking those with their hands raised how many had given five or more gallons of blood. Three hands stayed up, including Steve’s brother-in-law.
Now more than six months later from that fateful day, Steve continues to make steady progress with his recovery. He attends physical therapy twice per week and is navigating the transition from using special leg braces to walking with supportive poles. His muscles have healed and are getting stronger; his nerves will take longer to recover. That he was in excellent shape before the incident has proven to be a huge advantage for both his survival and recovery. Still, Steve credits his rescuers, the Natividad medical team and the anonymous blood donors for making his survival possible.
“The unnamed heroes these days, in most trauma cases, it’s the blood donors,” he said.
A second blood drive in Steve’s honor is scheduled for January 12 in Pacific Grove. The three then-strangers who pulled him to safety on June 22, Heath, Paul and Aimee, will be recognized at the drive with Lifesaving Awards on behalf of the Red Cross for their heroism. Steve will be in attendance, and he hopes he’ll be cleared to donate blood – his first donation following the shark bite, and hopefully one of many donations he plans to make moving forward.
When asked what he’d tell someone considering making a blood donation, he paused for a moment.
“It’s easy to say, ‘It could be you.’ You should donate blood because some day you might need it. But that’s not the right answer.” He paused again.
“We are best when we take care of each other, when we come together as a community, take care of each other, and love one another,” he said, emotion giving his voice a husky depth. “We do that when we give blood. I can’t think of a more tangible, meaningful, important way of caring for each other.”
Jamshid Kiani’s path to the American Red Cross is a familiar one for many volunteers: he was led by a spirit to serve others. Media coverage of a Red Cross disaster response in 2015 had piqued his interest, so he sought to learn more.
“A few months after retiring from my job as a chef at a private resort, preparing up to 1200 meals per day, I saw a news item showing Red Cross volunteers providing food and other items to affected clients. I was moved, and I thought to myself ‘I have the knowledge and ability to help with this,’ so I went online to see what the Red Cross is all about.”
That online foray kicked off a humanitarian journey that recently culminated in one of the top honors for a volunteer: this past June, Kiani was awarded the Central Coast Chapter’s Disaster Cycle Services Exceptional Leadership Award. In his seven years as volunteer, Kiani has achieved both experience and leadership in multiple disaster roles, including 46 disaster response deployments, two of those as extended deployments in the Virgin Islands and Oregon. In Northern California, he works with the Regional Response Management Team, and is a disaster response instructor for new Red Cross disaster teams and volunteers.
In short, Kiani has made good on that spirit to serve. But his initial intent to apply his culinary skills on a disaster back in 2015 didn’t quite go to plan. After taking online Red Cross training courses and learning more about the organization, he visited his local chapter office.
Red Cross volunteers load bags of groceries into the trunk of a car occupied by a San Benito County family in need of food assistance. _____
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