The holiday weekend meant festivities for many people across the U.S., but in some towns, it meant waiting to return home or continuing to clean up after a natural disaster.
On Sunday, the Red Cross closed its shelters in Los Alamos, N.M., after wildfire evacuation orders were lifted. However, the Red Cross will continue assisting disaster victims over the coming days and weeks, as staff help determine the long-term needs of those affected by the Las Conchas fire.
In Minot, N.D., which was inundated with record-breaking floods last week, residents continue to wait to return home to assess the damage. Since flood evacuations began, some have taken shelter with the Red Cross each night. On Monday evening, 160 people spent the night in one of the two Red Cross shelters open in Minot.
Once it is possible for residents to go home, the Red Cross will be there to distribute cleanup supplies such as bleach, shovels, trash bags and rakes. The Red Cross will also travel through neighborhoods to offer residents food and water as they work in their homes.
This kind of cleanup is now well underway hundreds of miles away in Joplin, Mo., the city hit by an EF5 tornado on May 22.
Since that day, the Red Cross has been there to help—providing shelter, food and water, cleanup supplies and emotional support. As temperatures hit 100 degrees in Joplin last week, Red Cross workers drove through neighborhoods to distribute water and ice, and to caution workers to be heat-safe and cleanup-safe.
“Everyone is at risk when temperatures rise above 90 degrees,” said Brian Keath, director of Emergency Services for the Greater Ozarks Chapter of the American Red Cross. “This week has been especially stressful for workers out in the heat raking and shoveling tornado debris. They need to be aware that they are susceptible to heat and heat-related illnesses, and need to take care of themselves.”
“Our crew is demolishing several homes that the tornado destroyed,” said Gary Sommer, a contractor from Osceola who has been working in Joplin for the last eleven days. “With this heat, we start work early in the morning and take breaks.”
Following their own advice, Sommer and his three crewmates took a breather from their work to get cold drinks from the Red Cross vehicle as it came down the street.
Lew Burdette, RN, is the disaster health services manager for the Joplin relief operation. He cautions cleanup workers to stay safe while they’re working in the debris.
“The two most common problems that people working in the debris encounter are punctures from nails or sharp metal and skin dermatitis caused by irritants in contact with their skin,” he said.
Lisa and Borde Williams are volunteers from New Mexico who have come to Joplin to help the town clean up. The Red Cross vehicle making rounds through the devastated neighborhoods found them raking debris from the yard of Christopher Richardson’s severely damaged home on Annie Baxter Street. “It is hot and dirty work, but everyone is pulling together and we know that Joplin will get back on its feet.”