You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

After Flurry of Winter Tornadoes, Volunteers Spring into Action

User News Image

PORTLAND, Ore. January 30, 2017 -- “People have lost absolutely everything.  A lot of these people don’t have a home. Taking them a meal seems like something really small, but to them it is big.  They’re so thankful.  When their focus is on the big picture and everything they have lost, a meal or a rake or a shovel means a lot.” - Judy Kimmons, a Red Cross volunteer from Medford, Oregon

In the midst of an unusually busy winter, with an increase in responses to local disasters like home fires, apartment fires and intense winter storm activity, the Red Cross of Oregon and Southwest Washington has deployed six responders from Medford, Salem, Woodburn and Portland, Oregon, and Longview, Washington, to help communities devastated by more than 60 tornadoes that swept across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina last weekend.

For more than a week, the Red Cross has been helping people affected by the deadliest January for tornados in five decades. The Red Cross has provided shelter to people who have lost their homes, served over 80,000 meals and snacks and distributed more than 28,000 relief items to people affected by these severe storms.

Judy Kimmons, a Red Cross volunteer from Medford, Oregon, is deployed and helping people affected by storms in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She was originally deployed to help with IT Services, but emergency response vehicle (ERV) drivers were needed, so she stepped up to help. She is traveling out in affected neighborhoods, delivering food and water to people who are otherwise stranded.

“You get to know the people,” said Kimmons. “We go out to the same neighborhoods every day for two weeks. Some people can’t leave their homes, so we take meals and water to them. You get to know them and get to be friends”

Ann Fenderson, a Red Cross volunteer from Salem, also deployed to Hattiesburg last week to assist that area’s local Red Cross chapter in training and onboarding new disaster response volunteers. These volunteers will help with existing Red Cross response activities for those affected by the tornadoes and will be equipped and ready to serve their communities in the event of future disasters.

Community members from all over have rallied together to do what needs to be done to help their families, friends and neighbors recover from the string of tornadoes that touched down across several states. Red Cross training provided by volunteers like Fenderson is empowering those who want to help but aren’t quite sure how.

”There is a gentleman here who is originally from Hattiesburg but who now lives in Washington, D.C.,” said Fenderson. “When he heard about the tornado here he took off time from work, unpaid, so that he could come back to his hometown to help. His first stop was to come in to Red Cross headquarters to find out how he could help.”

The extent of the damage across the states affected is devastating. The 60 tornadoes that touched down across the Southeastern U.S. last weekend have made this month the deadliest January on record for tornadoes in nearly 50 years. More than 3,700 homes were damaged or destroyed. The Red Cross has deployed over 500 workers so far to bring relief to those affected.

“I’ve stood out in the middle of the street and watched a woman totally break down and cry,” Kimmons said. “What else can you do but hold her and cry with her? Give her comfort and help her figure out her next immediate steps.”

Although the destruction left in the wake of the tornadoes is massive and overwhelming, the Red Cross has been there to provide support for people affected to start rebuilding their lives. The response of the Red Cross has been a huge relief to the many residents who have been reached so far.

“I get a good place to sleep and eat and that’s all I can do,” said Horace Gardner, a resident displaced by a tornado in Georgia. “The Red Cross has always been the Red Cross. They are always there.”