Port Angeles woman on call to aid hurricane victims

PORT ANGELES — Ricki McLaughlin has a huge supply of something Hurricane Katrina’s victims sorely need:

Comfort.

The six-year veteran of the Clallam County Search and Rescue team has volunteered to deliver it to the storm-torn Gulf Coast.

For now, McLaughlin is waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to summon her.

“I’d like to comfort those people in any way I can,” she said Thursday in her classroom at Stevens Middle School, where she has taught special education for seven years.

“And if finding someone’s loved one can comfort them, I’ll do it.”

That loved one, she says, likely will be dead.

“I’m thinking our main mission down there would be body recovery,” McLaughlin said.

She previously lived on the Gulf of Mexico and knows that heat and humidity will make recovery highly unpleasant.

“I know,” she said.

“I’ve thought about it. But it’s a way of giving back.”

If McLaughlin is called to go, she would be joined by three, perhaps four, other volunteers from her search-and-rescue team. The whole team has about 30 members.

“We’re on a list,” she said.

“If FEMA calls us up, then those of us who have volunteered will go.”

McLaughlin said she hoped the military will provide transportation.

“If worse came to worst, I’d pay my own way down there,” she said.

She’d be going into chaos, she knows.

“There’s no infrastructure there,” she said.

“There’s no societal infrastructure. Everything’s anarchy at this point.”

Going to the area devastated by Katrina would be a macabre case of déjá vu.

Survived two hurricanes

McLaughlin has survived two other hurricanes. She lived 17 years in Mobile, Ala., which was damaged by Hurricane Frederick in 1979.

“I’ve been in grocery stores with people fighting over water,” she said.

Mobile was without power for three weeks.

When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, she was living in south Florida, where she saw people brawling over ice that was delivered by the National Guard.

McLaughlin, who also has worked in Ohio communities laid waste by tornadoes, joined the Clallam County Search and Rescue group partly because of her husband, Jim, a retired Coast Guard search-and-rescue diver.

Mostly, though, it was her sense of social obligation.

“It’s been a way to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s so rewarding.”

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