Friday, August 27, 2004

Helpers in awe of Charley's violence



By Maggie Downs
Enquirer staff writer

Ned Stern said it's the initial shock that gets to him. Then it's all business.

Stern, 65, just returned to his Blue Ash home from a nine-day stint as a disaster assessment volunteer in parts of Florida pounded by Hurricane Charley.

Two weeks ago Charley destroyed more than 12,000 homes and left an estimated $11 billion of damage.

"You get an immediate impact of shock and emotion, and then it's back to work," he said of his experience in Sarasota. "Once you get home at night, then you can think about it. But while you're doing it, you just have to do it."

Stern is one of 11 volunteers stationed in Florida from the Cincinnati Area chapter of the Red Cross.

Four local residents are working in mass care, which feeds and shelters hurricane victims and distributes any items they might need now.

Four other area people are working in family service. They work to ensure victims have clothing and essential care.

One licensed person is working in disaster mental health, which helps both volunteers and victims. Another trained volunteer is working in disaster health services to assist people with special medical needs.

Most will be in Florida for about another week.Stern, a volunteer since 1998, came home early because his assignment was finished quickly.

Working in disaster assessment, Stern went house-by-house gauging the extent of damage.

"The first thing you notice are trees snapped off, or they're upturned with the whole root system showing," he said.

The second thing is metal.

"Corrugated metal comes off mobile homes, roofs, commercial buildings," he said. "It's twisted, you see it on trees, on the ground. It's there with all the other trash."

Nationally, more than 1,700 Red Cross disaster relief workers have been working on disaster that stretches across the state.

"It's a really tough assignment," said Carol Helmick, response solutions associate at the local chapter. "Many of our staff are sleeping in shelters. They work long hours. It's horrendously hot. And the damage is widespread with a lot of needs."

Rachelle Caldwell, 38, of Florence is still in Port Charlotte, Fla., working with the mobile feeding sites that serve more than 10,000 meals each day.

"The average age of most residents is 70, and we have a lot of shut-ins. Some of these people can't get out for food," said Caldwell, who is an administrator for the vehicles.

The mobile feeding units serve up lunch and dinner, with dishes ranging from sandwiches and macaroni to a hot pasta dish.

"We have people who haven't eaten in four days," Caldwell said. "The path of destruction was so large - it's 10 days afterward - and we're still seeing it. You go through that and you just want to cry."

Caldwell has been living in a Red Cross shelter that was set up in a mobile home park that was thumped by the hurricane.

"We look out and see major, major destruction," she said.

That's the reason Caldwell has spent 14 years volunteering for the Red Cross.

"If you could see these folks, they need help so desperately," she said. "I have to do something now to help the people around me while I can."

Caldwell will probably be sent home Tuesday.

To make donations or for information, call the Cincinnati Area chapter at (513) 579-3000 or 1-800-HELP-NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish).

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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