Editor’s Note: Soon after flooding devastated Colorado in mid-September, the call went out for specialized volunteers from the Central New York Region of the American Red Cross. Mark Paikin, of Fayetteville in Onondaga County, was one of the CNY volunteers who was deployed, and here are his thoughts from his three-week deployment:
On Sept. 18, I left Syracuse and traveled to Denver, Colo., to help out in the Northern Colorado flood area. I was there until Oct.10 and as all Red Cross volunteers know, these deployments range from sad to exhilarating.
The first example was my drive from Denver to Loveland and the “Ranch,” which is what we called our headquarters. As I drove north I was overwhelmed by the devastation consisting of flooded fields. In some of these newly formed lakes were the remnants of a cattle herd, with dead cattle scattered along the water edges.
When I was able to pry my eyes off that sight and look at the horizon, I saw the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains spread from one end to the other. If I hadn’t been so new to the scene, in retrospect, I probably should have pulled over and taken pictures of the good and the bad, but it was the last thought that went through my mind. It was quite the juxtaposition. Three weeks later when I was driving back to the airport, the pasture was just a pond and fortunately the cattle were removed.
My initial task was that of Staff Relations, a role I filled for less than a week. During that time I stayed at a hotel where the morning breakfast server was a lovely, 81-year-old woman named Velma, who had been commuting between Drake and the Loveland Comfort Inn for eight years. She was rather short, stooped, and very mild in nature. I often awoke quite early, but no matter when I went down for coffee, Velma was there.
As I got to know her, she related to me her story of how she was affected by the floods and that her town of Drake, near Estes Park, now barely existed. Her father had homesteaded there in the late 1800s, and she and her family had been living there ever since. The house was miraculously one of the few to still be standing, but there was no more land around it, no water or electrical systems, no grocery or any other supportive or functioning buildings.
In fact, Velma and her daughter, granddaughter and their three dogs were all evacuated by black hawk helicopter. The conservative estimate was that it would be more than a year before the inhabitants of Drake could return. Velma spent the first week in one of our Red Cross shelters, the second week in a car, and then the Comfort Inn decided to give her one of their rooms for as long as she needed it. It was just one of many acts of kindness I witnessed during my three-week stay.
My next two of weeks were spent in a new location with a different function. Happenstance put me in a position where some officials from Larimer County and I became close work associates and they requested that the Red Cross make me their contact point. So I moved softly into an Operations Management Site Manager position and thus had the great fortune to work with hundreds of volunteers from many function sets.
In fact, Janet Wakefield from the American Red Cross of Northern New York and I were able to work together. Janet is in Mental Health and she is such a great asset to have in our region. She helped mend many a wounded heart and mind. Janet spent much of her time ranging between our shelters, the Disaster Recovery Center, the Distribution Center and the Service Center.
The scope of this Disaster Relief Operation was so different from Superstorm Sandy. This was a relatively small affected population, but spread over a large geographic area. Of course, Sandy was just the opposite. I noted in my journal that the Colorado governor wrote that “the September 2013 floods may prove to be the worst natural disaster in the history of our state. Over 18,000 homes have either been destroyed or damaged.”
In any event, it was a learning opportunity for me to work with so many of our partner organizations. At 5:30 every evening I sat down to hear plans from FEMA, the county, the city, Salvation Army, and many, many, more agencies. It amazed me to see how well everyone worked together and how genuine their hopes and hearts were. Though the collective pain at times was palpable, the focus to help as much and as efficiently as possible remained the key.
We all had stories. Perhaps the most rewarding moments for me came when I had the opportunity to do outreach with FEMA Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Red Cross teams, which were tasked to go out and find folks who had fallen through the cracks. I can’t say enough about the young women and men from FEMA Corps and AmeriCorps – they are not kids but valuable colleagues who are a fantastic resource for the Red Cross and other agencies.
When we did find people who needed help and we were able to provide it, it reaffirmed for me why I/we answer “Yes” whenever May calls (May is our Disaster Workforce Engagement Specialist who notified disaster volunteers when they’re needed).
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