Three Akron-area families spent a warm and safe – yet unexpected – night with the Red Cross recently. In the early evening of April 12, several West Akron streets were turned into raging rivers when a 36-inch water main broke. In a matter of minutes, the broken water main sent over a millions gallons of water cascading through the neighborhood flooding basements and stranding people in their homes. As firefighters arrived on the scene to help transport residents to safety – some by boat – several members of the local Red Cross DAT team were called and deployed to the scene to assist with the evacuation. “It was clear that many people would not be able to return to their homes that evening,” recalls Debbie Chitester, Disaster Response Specialist, and one of the first DAT members to arrive on the scene. “As a result, we immediately opened a shelter to give those people a place to stay.” Fortunately , the disaster scene was only a few blocks from the Summit and Portage Counties Chapter’s building at 501 West Market Street. Although a total of 13 houses had to be evacuated, only three families – 10 individuals in all – sought shelter at the Red Cross, as the remainder found refuge with friends and family. The families received dinner from the Red Cross and eventually settled into cots, gradually falling asleep one-by-one. The residents awoke to breakfast, then spent an uncertain day as they waited to hear news about when they could return to their homes. The four youngsters among the shelter residents found the experience more of an adventure, liking it to a camp-out. “We thought that we would have to maintain the shelter through Friday evening and into Saturday,” Debbie continued. “But repairs to their houses were eventually completed and everyone was back into their homes that evening. We were able to close the shelter around 7:00 F riday evening.” During the 24-hours that the shelter was open, 10 DAT volunteers and two staff members assisted with the operation.
“You hear about the Red Cross and if you’ve never been a victim of anything and you become a victim, you get to see how the Red Cross works,” said a grateful Omar Dawood, one of the shelter’s residents. “I’m happy they let us come and stay.”