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Friday, November 23, 2012

SML responds

Volunteers from the lake travel north to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Many watched the chaos from the safety of home: the fallen trees, the smoking foundations and the helplessness of displaced residents. Some lake residents were not committed to being passive observers to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and decided to get involved to help ease the burden of victims.

"Everybody we talked to was shocked that it was so bad, that a storm that could hit one night could devastate for so long," said Moneta resident Breda McAuliffe.

A Red Cross volunteer since Hurricane Katrina, McAuliffe and her husband, Earl Mannoia, have traveled across the country to assist with disaster relief efforts. Their deployments through the Red Cross have taken them to the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricane Katrina, to Southern California wildfires and to Virginia Tech after the 2007 shootings. They now serve as Franklin County disaster team captains, a group that has about eight fully trained volunteers and two trainees.

Earlier this month, McAuliffe served as night supervisor of an American Red Cross shelter in Suffolk County, N.Y., helping to ensure that the 160 residents of the shelter were fed and received medical attention, that questions were answered, and that residents were kept comfortable even in the most trying circumstances.

"A lot of people have power outages, and some have their homes totally destroyed," said McAuliffe. "There's a lot of people with nowhere to go."

The shelter had a peak population of about 200 residents with areas for singles, couples and families. The Nov. 7 Nor'easter brought additional people fleeing the cold temperatures, she said.

"A lot of people are resigned. They know it's going to take a while to get into their homes or new housing," McAuliffe said. "There's still a big need here, and it will still be a need for a long time."

Ed Reynolds, another Red Cross volunteer from the lake and a volunteer at Lake Christian Ministries, recently was stationed in a Red Cross kitchen in New Jersey. He and his wife, Kathy, who also assisted with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, said his decision to help Sandy victims was simple.

"You start to get committed to helping these people," said Reynolds. "We knew what was happening out here, and we knew people needed help."

Not every lake resident traveling north to assist storm victims is connected to a volunteer organization.

Both McAuliffe and Reynolds returned to Virginia after two-week deployments last week.

When Hardy resident Bill Nash saw that friends and family would be in the direct path of Hurricane Sandy, and learned that later his wife's cousin was severely affected by the storm, he loaded up his car and headed north.

"I knew it was no question," Nash said.

The devastation along the I-78 corridor was amazing, he said. A GPS device redirected Nash six times in the course of the trip because of road blockages and closures. As he approached New Jersey and New York, Nash said waiting lines of motorists were spilling off the exit lanes into the highway.

"At first, you think it's an accident, but it was a gas line backed up into these lanes," recalled Nash.

In Warwick, N.Y., many residents were without heat or power. Grocery stores without electricity sold dry goods with clerks tabulating purchases by hand; police officers were stationed at gasoline stations to oversee the orderly conduct of patrons, he said.

For four days Nash helped his wife's cousin cut timber, and when the man's electricity returned, the pair helped neighbors remove their downed trees.

"Everyone seemed to work together," Nash said. "You didn't see people really frustrated. Just trying to clean up. People were trying to get through their routine."

Although the storm is over, a Red Cross training session in Roanoke onNov. 14 emphasized the ongoing need for additional hands.

More than 6,000 Red Cross volunteers are working across the Northeast, serving 3,200 residents in 32 shelters, said Amy Whittaker, public affairs regional director of the Roanoke Valley chapter of the Red Cross.

"We're seeing this first wave of volunteers getting ready to come home, and we need to send in more volunteers. This operation is going to go on for months," she said.

"The wonderful thing about the Red Cross is it's a large organization and has so many different functions that someone can participate in," said Mannoia. "Technology, feeding, housing - any function that would exist in a large company, the Red Cross provides."

Despite the difficulties and frustrations faced by storm victims, McAuliffe said the spirit of camaraderie prevailed.

"I've met a lot of people who have gone through a lot. There's uncertainty of the future. But we try to help as much as we can."