By Dan Dowling, Regional Communications Manager
“I have not really been to where tornadoes happen, so to see that it was just like, wow!”
That was Rowan Perry’s reaction as she first surveyed the damage from recent severe storms in Little Rock, Arkansas this past April. She had been in the middle of a 10-month service program with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, when her team got the call from the American Red Cross to assist with disaster relief.
“We had the opportunity to drive through where some of the tornado damage happened – and it was just devastation. You could see where these people had lived. I had never been to where a tornado was, living in Vermont,” she said.
For Perry, public service through AmeriCorps and the Red Cross was a way for her to experience cultures she otherwise might not have – and offer her time and hard work to make a difference. The Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes and relies on volunteers, like Perry, to provide care and comfort at a moment’s notice. The National Weather Service reported that this tornado torn a 34-mile path through Little Rock with estimated peak winds of more than 160 mph. Perry says given the population density, the damage was immense. The Weather Service estimates that at least 2,700 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by the Little Rock tornado.
“That blew my mind to see where it touched down. And then the path that it took and how long it was on the ground for just really was impactful for me.”
Perry added, “This is just crazy this happened to these people – and the amount of people that were displaced and how long the tornado was on the ground.”
The severe weather outbreak across the Central United States yielded more than 130 reported tornadoes in the 24-hour period between March 31st and April 1st. It was the fifth largest severe weather outbreak on record. The Red Cross is on the front lines of the climate crisis in communities across the country, supporting families who are struggling to cope with more frequent and intense disasters year after year.
In response to this disaster, more than 1,400 trained Red Cross disaster workers deployed to the area – and many of these volunteers helped assess the residential damage. Working with partners, the Red Cross also provided more than 255,000 meals and served more than 10,800 households with more than 105,900 relief supplies.
“It was amazing. A few of my teammates and I were able to hop on the ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) and help serve food to clients – and just put in the hours and make sure everyone was getting their food,” Perry said.
She spent three weeks in Little Rock providing care through the Red Cross. One of her proudest experiences was assembling meals and delivering food to those in need.
“The route we had was the biggest route, with the most amount of clients on it. It started out when we were first riding with them doing 320 dinners each night. One night there was four of us on the truck and we made 100 meals and 20 minutes! So that was our biggest accomplishment.”
Perry says her experience with AmeriCorps and the Red Cross changed her life. She was grateful to have served the people of Arkansas.
“More young Americans need to know about this experience. It's just such an amazing opportunity for serving the United States, as well as getting to know life skills and gaining way more new experiences and meeting new people,” she said.
Every day people are forced from their homes due to fires, storms and other disasters. From offering a caring and compassionate ear, to meeting the disaster-caused needs of individuals and households, such as lodging and clothing and connecting them with long term recovery services, our volunteers ensure that families don’t have to face tough times alone. To learn more, visit redcross.org.