The American Red Cross has launched large disaster responses in four states after the horrific tornadoes that touched down this past weekend in the center of the country.
People are struggling with the loss of loved ones, loss of their homes, loss of everything they had. Here are a few of their stories:
FRIGHTENED CHILD Thomas and Amanda Buster agreed that they would not head to the Red Cross shelter nearby after the tornado had leveled parts of their neighborhood had spared their house. “Others need it more,” they explained. Their son Benjamin could not sleep the following night, however, in fear of another tornado (“it sounded like a choo choo train”). Thomas even tried to show Benjamin the now-clear weather radar map on his phone, to no avail. When they arrived at the shelter on Monday they explained “we couldn’t stay another night in the house.” Buster, a retired firefighter and county rescue worker, explained that he had never seen the Red Cross in his work as a first responder and therefore did not know what to think of the organization. But after arriving at the shelter on Monday and seeing the ongoing operation here, said he wants to join. “I can drive a truck. Do you need drivers?”
FAIRLY NEW TO U.S. Winner Mweneshele and Mwatwmw Omari are taking refuge at the Red Cross shelter in Bowling Green. Winner explained that as a Congolese refugee, he spent 24 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania, getting both his primary and secondary school education in the camp. He became eligible to enter the United States as a refugee in 2019, but he and his family didn’t arrive here until 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was hitting the United States. There youngest son, Louis Winner, was born shortly after they arrived.
HOME DESTROYED Osman Zilic’s son-in-law had come to his house in the middle of the night to warn him about the nearby tornado heading his way, but Osman could not tell how close they were to being hit. It was not until Osman’s 11-year-old daughter came down the stairs, cellphone in hand, that he knew he had to get the whole family into a closet. “Just as I closed the door, the roof came down,” he explained. The bedrooms where his daughters were sleeping were destroyed. Along with his wife, they were left standing barefoot in the dark with the rain falling on their head. When they finally got out of the house, explained Osman, they just started walking in the same direction as others who all ended up several miles away at Jennings County Elementary School, which became the primary Red Cross shelter in the region. Osman, who was born in Bosnia and emigrated to the United States in 1995, recounted his story in Croatian to Red Cross photographer Marko Kokic.
SPIRITUAL CARE After losing their home and all their possessions in the tornado that ravaged Kentucky, Robert and Norma Valdivieso emerged from the protection of their bathtub and made their way to a Red Cross shelter nearby. They were immediately greeted by spiritual care specialist Deane Oliva. “She apologized to us for what we just experienced and explained what she could do for us,” Valdivieso explained. “She was very caring. Very comforting. Very genuine.” The couple said said that it takes a very special person to do what Deane did for them that night, that it was very inspiring. After that first night in the shelter, their friend was able to get them a hotel room for a few nights. When asked why they returned to the shelter, they simply said “to feel the love.” After retiring as a clinical neuropsychologist, Deane Oliva went to a seminary to become a minister and in 2017 joined the Red Cross to work in disaster services. “We provide for people’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs,” she said “This Is a ministry of presence.”
VOLUNTEERING A BLESSING Judy Cothern was one of the many volunteers that arrived in Bowling Green after the tornado had passed through. She lives in Franklin, “the next town down,” and was no stranger to Bowling Green — her granddaughter lives here. Judy worked the overnight shift while people slept, including the many immigrants who could not speak English — which was okay, Cothern said, because “I just needed to cover their babies.” She started volunteering with the American Red Cross 16 years ago after Hurricane Katrina. This is her 11th deployment. She’s been to the California wildfires and Hurricane Florence among other disaster locations. She gets emotional when explaining why she does this work. “People will say God bless you and I say He already has. I get the blessing out of it.”
YOU CAN HELP people affected by disasters like tornadoes and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. To make a financial donation or schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS. You can also use the Red Cross Blood Donor app or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 gift today. Every single contribution matters. Your donation is a commitment to helping people in need and enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.
For those interested in helping people specifically affected by the recent tornadoes, we ask that they write “Southern and Midwest Tornadoes” in the memo line of a check and mail it with a completed donation form to the address on the form or their local Red Cross chapter.