Peninsula volunteers recall helping Sandy victims
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American Red Cross
Red Cross volunteers Don Flowers, left, Roger Drake, in truck, and Vince Constello, right, assist families in Jersey City, N.J., last month.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

Volunteer class

The next Red Cross disaster response volunteer orientation class on the North Olympic Peninsula will be held Jan. 13.

To register for the class, phone the Red Cross offices at 360-437-7933.

Donations for local disaster relief can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 188, Carlsborg, WA 98324, with a check memo line marked “Local disaster relief.”

Financial donations for relief off the Peninsula, such as for superstorm Sandy, can be send to the local address or online at www.redcross.org, or phone 800-733-2777.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A team of North Olympic Peninsula Red Cross volunteers is back home after three weeks in areas hard-hit by superstorm Sandy.

When the Red Cross called nationally for volunteers, 15 trained volunteers and two nurses from the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross were deployed to New York, New Jersey and other affected East Coast states.

They were the ones where superstorm Sandy caused more than $62 billion in wind and water damage to countless homes, businesses and public works in late October.

Frank Keener, 67, of Sequim was among the first volunteers from Washington state to be deployed across the country as a bulk logistics manager, controlling and tracking the flow of supplies coming into the Red Cross' Massachusetts warehouse headquarters and their distribution.

The storm didn't hit the Northeast evenly.

“There were pockets of normalcy and pockets of devastation,” said Keener, who also was on a Red Cross team sent to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

This time, Keener spent 20 hours a day organizing the loading of supplies into hundreds of trucks that transported water, food, tents, medical supplies and other relief items to stricken communities.

The Sandy relief effort took up most of the resources American Red Cross had nationwide — including people.

“I didn't think I was going to be deployed,” said registered nurse Jamie Goodwin, 62, of Sequim, who was sent to manage health issues at a shelter on Staten Island, NY.

Goodwin, who said she was available to go to New York for only 10 days, said that normally the Red Cross only will mobilize people who can devote three weeks to the effort.

But the scope of the storm meant that all available trained people were sent, even if only for a week.

Every Red Cross emergency-response vehicle from across the nation also was sent, including one stationed in Bremerton, but it still wasn't enough, said Ryan Ollerman, 37, of Port Angeles.

That left Ollerman and Roger Drake, 62, also of Port Angeles using rented Ryder trucks — with Red Cross stickers to identify them — to distribute emergency supplies.

Ollerman and Drake took the supplies from warehouses inland to the coastal community of Somerset, N.J.

Red Cross vehicles had priority in long gas lines, but the volunteers said they endured many hardships, such as sleeping in their trucks or aboard Navy ships; being bused long hours from their hotels to their work stations,; living on what food they could find and mostly without electricity during their three weeks.

But as bad as the volunteers had it, the local residents were far worse off, they said.

“The people had resilience. They had no power, their food was rotten, their flashlights died. But through all that, they were OK,” said Betty Hendricks, 66, of Port Angeles.

Hendricks was assigned to the “safe and well” team that canvassed areas where people were still living in their homes but didn't have electricity or other utilities.

Her job included helping elderly residents contact their children in other states and checking on those who didn't have relatives nearby, she said.

Traveling from one apartment building to another with her team, Hendricks said she found neighbors were helping neighbors.

Some elderly residents were stuck on the ninth floor of a building, but they were “dealing with it” by relying on their neighbors for help, she said.

Zane Beall, 23, of Port Angeles, an AmeriCorps disaster service coordinator for the Red Cross, said there was often one young person from a block, an apartment building or even just representing a floor, who would come to Beall's Hampton, N.J., distribution point to pick up food for a whole group of people.

“You got to know who they were,” Beall said.

Volunteers often used iconic landmarks — the NFL MetLife Stadium or Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster — to be found easily.

Some of those locations had seen obvious signs of flooding, such as debris caught 4 feet high in athletic field fencing.

Denise Bergeron, 55, of Agnew, a Red Cross registered nurse, was stationed at the Coney Island parking lot.

People who are in shock after a disaster aren't reading things, she said; they're looking for symbols, and the Red Cross symbol is one of the most easily recognizable for help and safety.

Even a Red Cross vest, hoisted on a stick in front of a tent, was enough for people to find the help they need, she said.



Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 09. 2012 6:08PM
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