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In the Wake of Harvey

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By Digital Communications Manager, Ashley Henyan

Based on the scope of damage and the lives impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the American Red Cross has launched a massive effort to get help to where it is most needed— especially with Harvey’s catastrophic devastation being called the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history. Part of this effort includes deploying volunteers from around the country into the areas of the Gulf Coast that have been most tragically affected by the storm.

John Luong and Ernie Balba are just two of the nearly 40 volunteers that have deployed to Texas from the Los Angeles Region. On the ground now for only a few days, each already has a new Red Cross story to share.

Whenever he can, John Luong volunteers with the Red Cross locally in Los Angeles as part of the Disaster Action Team, and 28 times in the past seven years he has deployed to assist with major disaster relief efforts around the country. Now, John is on his way to Houston, although he left Los Angeles more than 24 hours ago—but that is how difficult it is to get into the areas most heavily affected by this storm. In fact, last we spoke with him, John was on a bus full of Red Cross volunteers headed to Houston from Austin, unsure if a helicopter transport would be the next necessary step to reach the area where help is needed most. “These people have lost everything. To be here and to be part of the recovery process, and to offer feeding and sheltering and emotional support, really brings me a sense of gratitude,” John said.

Ernie Balba has been a Red Cross volunteer for a little more than one year, the current massive response effort to Hurricane Harvey being only his second deployment. Poised now to staff a mega-shelter located outside of the affected area that is capable of handling more than 6,000 overnight guests, Ernie has already seen the sense of hope and peace that the Red Cross can bring to human beings during their greatest time of need. He stated, “As soon as I arrived people started coming up to me and saying thank you and hugging me. I hadn’t even done anything yet. But, I think they felt better knowing the Red Cross was there to help. I’m just trying to stay flexible and help whenever I can. I’m not really overwhelmed with the mass destruction caused by this storm. I just want to help.” From his past deployment, Ernie has experience in logistics and fork-lift driving, and is now ready to use those skills to help with the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

With over 32,000 people seeking safety overnight in Red Cross and partner shelters from Tuesday August 29 to Wednesday August 30 alone, there is no doubt John and Ernie’s presence will continue to impact the lives of everyone they can reach.

We will continue to follow John and Ernie’s stories for the duration of their deployments. And, you can stay up to speed on their experiences in Texas by following us @RedCrossLA on Twitter.