June 11, 2015 - Mimi Teller Rosicky is one of 16 Los Angeles Region Red Cross workers who have been deployed to Houston, Texas to assist people in communities ravaged by severe flooding that occurred during Memorial Day weekend. Although Mimi has been a volunteer for only five months, she’s had extensive Red Cross disaster and client casework training and is on her very first deployment. She talks to us about her experience on the ground.
Q. What did you expect upon arrival in Houston? Can you tell us what the scene was like?
A. I expected to see a city under water. As we flew in, I just thought it looked like a very normal, idyllic looking city, not a drop of water. I came in a week after the disaster and most of the water had completely receded. I was shocked because I even went out and bought rain boots, which is not an easy task in California, in June! However, once we arrived at the affected streets, it looked like a war zone. The contents of every home were sitting on the curb. Nothing was visibly, structurally affected, but that’s where water is so evil. It leaves everything looking normal, and yet everything is very, very far from normal.
Q. What's the response been like in the communities you've helped serve?
A. When we were doing outreach, everybody said, “Wow, you guys are really going door-to-door” and “thank you.” On our first day out, our team of four had just left a home. It was about noon and I said to the group that I was really hungry. As soon as I said this, a darling little minivan drove up and a soccer mom, with four boys in the back, leaned out of her car and asked “Are y’all hungry? I got some sandwiches!” And it caught us off guard because we’re usually the ones bringing aid! She gave us little lunch bags with potato chips, Gatorade and baloney sandwiches… and before they drove away, she said “Ok y’all, well welcome to Texas! Enjoy your sandwiches! Y’all take care!”
Q. Houston, like Los Angeles, is a major metropolitan area. What is it like to see the city submerged as a result of a natural disaster? Does it change your perspective on how vulnerable people/communities are at home, in Los Angeles?
A. Absolutely. By no means was the entire city of Houston submerged, but there were many neighborhoods and areas that were flooded. Houston is enormous, the same size as L.A. in area. Most of the water receded within about 12 hours, from what we heard. So the flooding entered homes sometime about 2 a.m. And most people reported that by 7 a.m. their homes were empty, and by 10 a.m., the streets were empty. What happened was that it had been raining for three solid weeks. And everything was saturated. But then that night, around 1 a.m., a system came that dumped a tremendous amount of water. So all the infrastructure was overloaded at that point and could not sustain the additional delugeI saw pictures with water halfway up the refrigerator, about 36-48 inches. And people said they woke up and their mattress was floating … Everybody’s experience was so surreal. And we’ve seen people from every socio-economic background, and everyone’s affected equally.
Q. As a client caseworker, you work to gather information to determine how to help people move forward after experiencing a disaster. What are some common things people overlook in preparing their homes for disaster?
A. Proper insurance coverage. And I can’t emphasize that enough. I would say a lot of people just assume having insurance is the same as having flood or hurricane insurance. If you live in an area that is prone to any level of disaster, make sure you have the insurance that is appropriate. Know your policy to ensure you are appropriately and adequately covered. Preparedness is a key for your personal safety, but for recovery, you need insurance.
Q. You've also spent some time documenting the scene as a volunteer photographer. Can you tell us of a snapshot of a scene that resonates with you?
A. On one street that was affected, we met a woman who lived alone and didn’t really have a community. All the contents of her home were going to end up on her lawn. She had a group of teenagers helping her unload everything, and she needed to touch every item that left that home. She needed to touch every item that was in the house and mentally say goodbye. Since she was having difficulties, we brought in our Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services volunteers to help her cope.
Q. What can you take away from your experience aiding disaster-affected communities in the Lone Star State?
A. It’s long days and long hours. We meet with a lot of people, we hear the same stories. By now I could tell anybody’s story; they’re almost identical. There was a heavy rain, they went to bed, they woke up to use the bathroom, their neighbor called, the dog was crying, or the thunder woke them up. So I could essentially finish every story I’m hearing. But you can’t. You have to open your ears to every person that sits in front of you as if you’ve never heard the story before. And you want to hear their story, you want to feel their experience and you want to respond to every individual need.
Q. Anything you’d like to add?
A. I’m having a heck of a lot of fun: the team effort with other Red Crossers, the support from the community and our partners, and even the appreciation of the people we’re assisting. It’s just amazingly gratifying. What I’ve learned has been tremendous, and that’s what feeds me.
A special thanks goes out to Mimi and all our L.A. Region Red Cross workers who are delivering aid and support: Cary Van Ausdall, Michael Mardini, Alexa Harper, Wilhelmina Mussman, Sam Burgess, Helen Brooks, Laura Warriner, Normando Fajardo, Vilma Escamilla Duran, Tori Kanhayuwa, Jeanne Woo, Elizabeth Fieux, Stephen Maxey, Henry Mills and Josue Perez.
For tips on how you can help prepare your family and neighbors for a flood, go to http://www.redcross.org/prepare/mobile-apps/flood to download. And for more on disaster preparedness in the LA area, whether for floods that can occur in the midst of a drought, or how to make an exit plan for your family, visit preparesocal.org.