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Giving Help and Hope: Stories from Red Cross Responders in Louisiana

OKC family speaks with Red Cross volunteer
"You don't really realize until you go through the neighborhoods just how catastrophic this is."

The magnitude of the devastation in Louisiana is hard to fathom. More than 110,000 homes have been damaged in and around Baton Rouge. At the peak of the flooding, more than 10,000 people sought refuge in Red Cross shelters. Thousands still remain in those shelters, with no place else to go. Their homes have been destroyed, their worldly possessions are gone and their lives have been completely uprooted.

But the nation is rising up to help, as volunteers and supplies are descending on the area in a wave of compassion. They’ve never met the individuals they’re helping. They just want to give of their time to deliver food, shelter and comfort during a time of great need.

To date, 27 responders from Oregon and Southwest Washington are on the ground offering aid. Others are assisting virtually, talking with people in need and helping them to connect with resources to assist in their recovery process.

Patty and Chuck Albin, of Medford, Oregon, are some of those volunteers on the ground transporting relief supplies, such as water and clean up kits, into affected neighborhoods. “You see the pictures on the news and it’s horrible. But you don’t really realize until you go through neighborhoods just how catastrophic this is,” Patty said. "A family from Baton Rouge came to us to get help -- a woman, man and two small children. They had stayed at a hotel until their money ran out and since then have been living in their car. We helped to make sure they got to a Red Cross shelter,” Patty said. “Just before they left, the woman mentioned it was the little boy's seventh birthday. We brought him a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy and he lit up. This is why we're here. To give comfort and help people connect with the resources they need,"

This story of Oregon and Washington responders going the extra mile to help people who are suffering is one of many coming out of Louisiana. Scott Fine, from Lake Oswego, Oregon, met a woman staying at a Red Cross shelter. She was in great physical pain in addition to the emotional agony of losing her home and possessions. She had a fused disc in her back, was recovering from cancer treatment and just had a double mastectomy. “She was in a lot of pain sleeping on the cot provided at the shelter. I found a comfortable mattress for her so she could sleep pain free. She was so grateful that she gave me a huge hug,” Fine recalls.

Everywhere they go, Patty Albin says she meets people who have lost all of their worldly possessions; however, their determination to survive remains. “We were going through a neighborhood near Baton Rouge handing out clean up kits – work gloves, brooms, cleaning supplies. I met a woman who was putting everything she could salvage from her home on her lawn. She had lost everything. Absolutely everything. She told me ‘We will clean up, pick up and move on. That’s all we can do,” With a catch in her throat, Patty related the devastation was so great “It took my breath away. People need to know what this lady and others are going through.’”

Other Baton Rouge residents describe tales of loss we can only imagine. A man pointed to a car with a dented roof and said his mother and grandmother waited on top of the car for 12 hours before being rescued from the ravaging floodwaters. Another man tearfully recounted that he owned a small business and the 30 people he employed are out of a job because his business is gone.

The stories told to Red Cross volunteers vividly paint a stark picture of a long and tedious recovery process for the state. The Red Cross is just beginning work there and will be on the ground for weeks and months to come, helping the community to recover. One week into this disaster, the Red Cross has mobilized the largest sheltering and feeding effort since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

This is the largest volume of people in need of emergency shelter in the last four years. And, early planning estimates indicate more than one million meals may need to be served over the next few weeks. Already, Red Cross has served 260,000 meals and snacks and distributed nearly 60,000 relief items. Nearly 90 emergency response vehicles are fanning out through affected neighborhoods to distribute food, water and supplies such as personal hygiene items, insect repellant, cleaning kits and bleach. Mental health disaster responders are visiting shelters to offer comfort. Health services volunteers are assisting with things like lost eyeglasses and medications. Red Cross has provided more than 40,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters. At the peak of the flooding, more than 50 shelters provided safety for more than 10,000 people.

As a comparison, during Superstorm Sandy the Red Cross served more than 17 million meals and snacks, and 74,000 overnight stays in shelters. During Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Red Cross served 68 million meals and snacks and provided 3.8 million overnight stays in shelters across 27 states.