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Wildfires, Tornadoes and Severe Spring Weather Affects Most of Country


Thousands of people across the south have been forced from their homes, where fierce wildfires and deadly tornadoes have destroyed entire neighborhoods. The American Red Cross is responding across several states, offering shelter, food and support to those affected by the severe conditions.

More than a million acres have burned in Texas in the last week as wildfires rage across the western end of the state. Red Cross disaster workers have opened shelters and emergency response vehicles are fanning out in the area, distributing food and water, as well as clean-up items.

In North Carolina, more than 700 homes have been destroyed or damaged by the tornadoes which ravaged the state last weekend, leaving many with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Red Cross has shelters open and more than 30 emergency response vehicles are distributing food, water, and items to help with the clean-up efforts.

The Red Cross is also responding to severe weather in Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama. More than 4,400 homes have been affected overall by both the wildfires and tornadoes. Disaster workers have opened 23 shelters in the last few days and distributed almost 3,000 clean-up kits. With the help of partners in the various communities, the Red Cross has served almost 50,000 meals and snacks.

Red Cross provides hot meals and caring hearts to tornado-battered North Carolina County

It was the supper hour when the tornado touched down on the outskirts of Askewville, a small town in Bertie County, North Carolina. It cut a path of destruction nearly 10 miles long across peanut fields and forests, pulverizing houses, trailers, barns and outbuildings. Initial damage reports found more than 80 structures destroyed or severely damaged.

An important part of the relief effort is the Red Cross mobile feeding teams delivering hot meals and cold drinks door-to-door throughout the tornado-affected area. Meals are prepared by Red Cross volunteers, working hand-in-hand with other humanitarian agencies.

“The Red Cross offers more than just a hot meal,” said Harry Rector, a Red Cross volunteer. “We get out of the ERV at every residence and ask the people if they’d like some food or water. But we also make an effort to see how they are doing. We tell them what services the Red Cross can provide for them, and listen to some of their tornado stories. These people are our friends and neighbors, and we want them to know that we care deeply about them.”

Rector’s ERV team included Charlie Avery and Jimmie Whichard. Only a few miles from the Southern Baptist kitchen where they loaded up with hot meals and drinks, the team pulled off the road in front of a home sitting in a grove of pines. The tornado’s path was clear. The roof of the modest brick home was gone and debris was everywhere. The owner, Leon Raynor, is 78 years old and he and his wife have lived here for 45 years.

The couple was sitting down to supper when the tornado came, and they huddled together in the kitchen as it battered and tore at their home. The house is now uninhabitable – in addition to the roof being torn off, the house has shifted off its foundation. “The 2x6’s were flying everywhere, and I got hit badly enough by one of ‘em to be taken to the hospital,” Raynor said. “I’m OK now, and I’ve got my boy here with me, and I’m staying at my daughter’s place down the road.” He smiled a little. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this house. My wife and I have lived on this little one-acre place for a good part of our life and all this is pretty rough.” Then he added “But I want to thank you all for asking about me and my family, and checking back. I appreciate what you folks do.”

This scene was repeated all along the delivery route. Everywhere they stopped, Rector, Avery and Whichard were empathetic to the plight of residents and offered a kind word along with a hot meal. This was not contrived – it was clear that they really cared about the people they visited.

Others along the ERV route had similar stories of survival, hope and perseverance. Everywhere neighbors, family and friends were gathered in small groups helping clean up and support those impacted by the tragedy. And the Red Cross is also right there, helping people in their time of need.

How you can help

The Red Cross depends on financial donations to get help to people affected by disasters. Please consider making a donation today to help to those in need. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.