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Atlanta Disaster Volunteer Helps in 'Wrecked Corner of Paradise'

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They were amazingly grateful that the Red Cross was there..."

As an Atlanta Red Cross volunteer, Molly Bardsley has seen a lot of damage this year, from floods to tornados to hurricanes. But when she arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Irma and Maria, it was the worst. It was a wrecked corner of paradise. 

“Every place you looked was devastation,” she said. “Traffic lights and power poles down. Houses sliding down hills. Sailboats leaning against buildings. Most of the other boats were sunk in the harbor.” 

That’s what back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes will do, even turning the green jewels of islands brown as viewed from space. Bardsley was bound for St. John’s Cruz Bay, a resort area on the smallest island, which is dominated by Virgin Islands National Park. “Conditions were so difficult that anyone with an option to go elsewhere did,” she said. That meant no cell service or electricity – except for generators. 

A small community to begin with, Cruz Bay still didn’t have many of its residents a month after the storms. Most occupants of the shelter Bardsley managed in the small Bethany Moravian Church were men, busy during the day at work on the recovery and at night finding food and a safe haven in the shelter. One aspect seemed strange. “I’ve never managed a shelter without kids,” she said.

Shelter work had not been what Bardsley signed up for during her three-week disaster assignment on the island. She had come to distribute emergency supplies, one of her several specialties. But shelter work was a pressing need and fine with her. Island jobs mean doing a bit of everything. “This particular deployment required a higher degree of flexibility than any I’ve been on,” Bardsley explained with a big smile. 

Thus, she also found herself unloading trucks of emergency materials, from cleanup materials and tools to boxes of food, which were then transported in rented jeeps to remote areas. When she got there, the Red Cross was also providing meals at four locations and on two mobile routes. 

For Bardsley, an infectious disease epidemiologist by profession and a mother of three, Red Cross volunteer deployments have taken her many other places in two intense years as a volunteer. With two children in college now and a supportive husband and teen in high school, she has more flexibility in her life to help others. As the year wound down, she was looking forward to reconnecting with her loved ones. “I’m going to be home for a little while. I promised my husband I wouldn’t deploy for the rest of the year.” After that? Disasters and Red Cross volunteers never rest for long. 

When she left St. John green leaves were reappearing, and power was slowly being reconnected. She carries with her special memories of the people. They were “so universally appreciative of our efforts,” she said. “They were amazingly grateful that the Red Cross was there and that they weren’t being forgotten. Everywhere I went people were so delighted to see us.” 

Sound interesting? You can become a volunteer too – go to www.redcross.org to learn more and sign up. Or if you don’t have time to work on an island for three weeks, or help in an area damaged by a flood or tornado, the Red Cross will be grateful for your donation through the web site -- any time but especially during this season of giving.