“When are you coming back? And be careful.”
These are the words longtime American Red Cross volunteer Ray Robledo hears from his partner Irma whenever the phone call comes to deploy. This past May, Ray was relaxing on vacation in Fajardo, Puerto Rico when he got the call from the Red Cross: Could you deploy to Guam to support the response to Typhoon Mawar Ray had answered a similar call 26 years earlier, when he traveled to the Pacific Island after Typhoon Paka. Just like in 1997, Ray immediately said yes, and he was on a plane to Guam the next day.
Ray, who lives in Orange County, NY, is a longtime member of the Disaster Action Response Team (DART), a collaboration between the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and the American Red Cross in Greater New York. Before becoming a Red Cross volunteer, he served as a New York City firefighter for 16 years. In the 31 years since his first Red Cross deployment to Florida after Hurricane Andrew, Ray has lost count of how many times he has gone out to help people in need after a disaster.
“I’ve been all over,” the 70-year-old said. “So many times, I can’t remember all my deployments.“
Getting to Guam was a whirlwind: Ray arrived home from Puerto Rico around 10:30 p.m. and by 5:30 the next morning was back out the door to fly to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles he flew to Waikiki, and finally Waikiki to Guam – via a combination of commercial flights and military aircraft. Ray and a group of Red Cross team members arrived in Guam early in the day and were greeted by rains that seemed like a monsoon. From dawn until midday, the sky opened up and the wind blew rain from all directions.
“Then it stopped,” Ray said. “It was like somebody turned off the faucet and everything got back to normal, and we could get to work.”
The team divided the island into three sectors, with Ray returning to the southern part of the island where he had served back in 1997. He went out to each of the villages in his sector, meeting with the chiefs (local mayors) and their staff to ask what was needed and where. Typhoon Mawar was the strongest storm to hit Guam in more than two decades, and the worst damage seemed to be in the northern section of the island. After covering all the villages in his assigned sector, Ray went north to help the rest of the team.
“I just don’t like sitting around watching everybody work, so that’s what I did and that’s what the whole team did,” he said. “Everybody helped out. It’s not like we had a lot of people, but whatever we had we made it work.”
Communication on the island was difficult: Cell phones weren’t working. Many residents didn’t have water or power. After decades of responding to disasters, Ray has learned the importance of following up with his crew and doing spot checks in the affected region to make sure residents are getting the supplies and support they need.
“I went to one place, where I spoke to a family – a mother, father and three children,” Ray recalled. “They said they hadn’t had an [Emergency Response Vehicle] go around the last three days. They had two cans of Spam left and two quarts of water for a family of five. They had a partial roof, so they were living in a corner of the house where the roof was still there. I made sure I contacted headquarters, sent them pictures, and I got them the emergency supplies they needed. And then we made sure to visit the whole area.”
It wasn’t easy. Ray and his teammates had to navigate many small, difficult-to-travel roads to check on affected residents and deliver food, water and other essentials.
“We made sure we filled them up with whatever they needed,” he said.
After three weeks in Gaum, Ray returned to New York and his partner, Irma. Irma was relieved he was home safe. Ray said, “She always worries, but this is what I do.”
Irma added, “During this time of the year, we make plans around his deployments. I don’t like him putting his life at risk. But he is very good, and he helps a lot of people. Our friends and family always send their blessings for him and his team to come back safely.”
Despite the arduous travel and emotionally taxing relief work, Ray says he doesn’t plan to stop volunteering anytime soon.
“As long as I’m able to, I’m going to continue working with the Red Cross.”
Thank you to Ray and to all the volunteers who deploy locally and nationally to deliver hope and help.
To join our team visit: redcross.org/gnyvolunteer
To learn more about the work of the American Red Cross on Guam after Typhoon Mawar click here.