On top of working through the challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, American Red Cross volunteers have also been keeping up with a staggering increase in calls to help those displaced by local disasters, including many apartment building fires and destructive weather.
Last year between June 1 and June 17, the Red Cross provided emergency recovery assistance to 162 disaster victims in the five counties that make up Southeastern Pennsylvania. During the same time frame this year, Red Cross teams served 308 people displaced by disaster in the same counties, almost double the number from 2019.
On June 3, a line of intense, fast moving thunderstorms known as a derecho tore through communities in the region with devastating results. Winds over 80mph ripped the roof off an apartment building in Lansdale, Montgomery County, and Red Cross teams provided emergency recovery assistance, which included hotel stays, to 36 people who could no longer live there. This same storm is believed to be the cause of a fatal fire in Delaware County, where the Red Cross assisted two surviving residents, and an additional seven people who were displaced by storm damage in Chester and Philadelphia Counties. In total, 45 people severely impacted by these destructive storms received Red Cross assistance.
This month has also been marked by large fires, like the fire that tore through an apartment building in Northwest Philadelphia, impacting 87 units. Along with displacing dozens of people, this fire also claimed the life of an elderly woman who was unable to escape. Following enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols, trained Red Cross disaster workers responded to the building and in total provided emotional support, temporary housing assistance and other care to 28 people who had nowhere else to turn.
“It was clear the residents had some challenges but were able to band together to find shelter for the night via family members or hotels. It was comforting to know they would have food and shelter for the night,” said Red Cross Volunteer Mary Harper.
Most recently on June 15, an early morning fire engulfed a Center City rowhome that housed families in several units inside. Red Cross teams worked through the process of assessing the needs of those displaced and coordinating assistance. Volunteers Larry Daly and Fred Lehman jumped into action to deliver the Red Cross mission, following safety guidelines to make sure that assistance got into the hands of the 14 people who needed help.
“Even though we volunteer in different counties and hadn’t worked together much before the pandemic, Fred and I knew that we had to work as a team and take on these new challenges. That way we can get help to the people who need it, because that’s the most important part,” Daly said.
“It has been a very busy month with several multi-family fires. These incidents have involved many displaced residents and the response teams that I’ve been able to work with have been phenomenal,” said Lehman.
These are just a few of the large responses Red Cross teams have taken on since the start of June, with many smaller responses in between, in all adding up to 47 Red Cross disaster responses during the first 17 days of June.