By: Chris Quinn, Public Affairs Volunteer
Esther Lovett looked out a window at the east end of her brick ranch house in Griffin, Georgia, the night of Jan. 12 trying to figure out why she could hear the sound of a train.
“I said, there’s no train tracks around here,” just before a massive oak tree crashed into the roof right over Lovett’s window. She ran to the middle of the house and huddled down in a bedroom while a tornado reduced much of her neighborhood to rubble.
In the morning light, the walls of her house were still standing, but the sun also showed her how lucky she was. Several neighbors’ houses had been scoured down to the concrete slabs, leaving behind only piles o broken boards, shingles, bricks, pipes, and shredded household furnishings.
American Red Cross volunteer Dale Carr of Albany, Georgia, pointed out the high level of damage that testified to the storm’s power. Oak trees that Carr could not reach both arms around were snapped like broomsticks.
Pine tree trunks had been tossed like pickup sticks. The random destruction of the tornado flattened some houses, while only damaging others.
He and other volunteers were some of the first helpers to arrive on the scene Friday, tracking the storm’s path and doing initial damage assessments to homes. The assessors play a key role in Red Cross efforts to provide relief to those who surface in storms’ wakes to sort out the pieces of what’s left. The team spent three days tracking through the town and its suburbs, property by property, to see how many homes were damaged and how many people were going to need aid – which could range from a few meals, medications, and clothing to a long-term place to live. The information and photos the workers send electronically from the field help the agency understand how many volunteers and how much material to gear up for ongoing relief work. By Monday afternoon, the count of homes damaged in Griffin was at 400 and rising.
The Red Cross had ten teams of volunteer assessors working across Georgia where tornadoes touched down, while many folks were enjoying the long weekend provided by Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Robert and Sharron Williams of Leesburg, Georgia, began volunteering in 2017 after two tornados hit their little town three weeks apart.
People recognize the Red Cross vests they wear as they arrive early to lay the groundwork for the coming days or weeks of help, Robert Williams said. Some victims come out of homes nearly shellshocked after surviving a storm.
“I try to smile and give them a little hope,” Robert said.
“Most of the time, we are the first Red Cross responders that they are going to see.”
Michelle Griner, another volunteer assessor, said the victims typically come out to talk to them.
“There are all kinds of questions,” she said. She and other volunteers direct them to a Red Cross shelter where they can get hot meals and some supplies – and then she directs them to the Red Cross emergency hotline where they can get more information.
Trees punched three large holes in the roof of Lovett’s house. She stood outside, trying to sort out the next step with the aid of a granddaughter. Because of the holiday, she was having trouble getting her insurance company on the phone. It’ll be a long haul for her.
But, still, she’s grateful. “I’ve lost everything but the most important thing. I’m still alive.” For people like her, the Red Cross is often the first step back up.
All Red Cross disaster assistance is free and made possible through the generosity of the community.
People in need of emergency assistance are asked to call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or go to RedCross.org. You can also download the free American Red Cross Emergency App to help protect yourself and your loved ones. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores or visit redcross.org/apps. The app is also compatible with Apple Watch and Android wearable devices.