When Hurricane Ike slammed into Texas and continued its path of destruction up the Ohio Valley a year ago, the American Red Cross responded with shelters, food and assistance for thousands of people over the following weeks. And after the evacuees returned home, the Red Cross and its chapters undertook renewed efforts to be even better prepared for future disasters.
Marsha Wilcox recounts many fond memories of her home, built by her great-grandfather in Wallisville, Texas, as she surveys the damage on September 15, 2019, two days after Hurricane Ike hit.
Gene Dailey/American Red Cross
A Path of Destruction
Ike made landfall early on September 13, 2019, along the north end of Galveston Island. It then continued up through Galveston Bay, just east of Houston, flooding city streets and downing numerous trees and power lines.
In Louisiana, where damages were still fresh from Hurricane Gustav, which had hit less than two weeks earlier, Ike’s storm surge waters pushed up to 30 miles inland. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that 2.6 million customers lost power in Texas and Louisiana, and many were without electricity for weeks.
Ike not only caused extensive damage on the Gulf Coast, but also across parts of the Ohio Valley as the storm made its way north. The destructive tornadoes, flooding and wind damage that followed Ike were a sober reminder that hurricanes aren’t just a coastal problem.
The Red Cross Responds
Thousands of people sought shelter as Ike hit the United States, and the Red Cross opened more than 200 shelters in Texas alone. Nearly 6,700 Red Cross workers were in the state, serving more than 8 million meals and snacks during the relief operation, which lasted for weeks.
In Texas, the Red Cross also gave out approximately 37,000 comfort kits — containing soap, toothpaste and other toiletries — and distributed more than 70,000 clean-up kits, which include essentials such as disinfectant, mops and buckets.
Regardless of the type of disaster, a relief operation of this magnitude calls for extensive preparation. The Greater Houston Area Chapter of the Red Cross was in the thick of the response then, and continues to prepare for future disasters.
Acting on Lessons Learned
Following Hurricane Ike, the Red Cross opened 25 shelters in the Greater Houston area and many stayed open for weeks. Volunteer resources were strained by the need to staff shelters 24 hours a day, and the Houston chapter has worked over the past year to increase its number of trained volunteers.
Partners in the chapter’s corporate volunteer program, Ready When the Time Comes (RWTC), have stepped up to help by allowing their employees to be trained as shelter volunteers. RWTC is a volunteer recruitment program that trains employees from local partner corporations and mobilizes them as a community-based volunteer force when disaster strikes.
More than 20 Exxon Mobil employees get trained to operate a Red Cross shelter on September 1, 2019 in Houston. The employees are participants in the Ready When the Time Comes (RWTC) program, which trains employees from local partner corporations and mobilizes them as a community-based volunteer force when disaster strikes.
Early this month, the Houston chapter trained more than 20 Exxon Mobil employees to operate a Red Cross shelter. The chapter also conducted a mock shelter drill this summer with volunteers from the RWTC program.
During the 2008 hurricane season, the HOPE worldwide organization deployed 800 volunteers to Texas and Louisiana to help provide food and shelter, so this July, the Houston chapter reached out to the organization and trained more than 100 additional HOPE members.
Along with training more people, each week the chapter volunteers wash and maintain the disaster vehicles and work in the warehouse, organizing and adding new supplies, including cots, blankets and nursing kits for shelters; clean-up kits for flooded homes; and comfort kits for fire victims. There the supplies wait, ready when they are needed.
Preparing with the Help of our Partners
Thanks to support from the Wal-Mart Foundation, three chapters in Texas that were affected by Hurricane Ike are able to improve their ability to respond to disasters.
The Rio Colorado Chapter in Bay City, the Beaumont Chapter and the Orange County Chapter were among 128 Red Cross chapters across the country that received grants from the Wal-Mart Foundation’s Disaster Readiness and Capacity Building Grants Program. The grants program was designed to help build the response capacity of small and mid-size Red Cross chapters.
The Wal-Mart Foundation grants are helping the chapters increase their capacity to respond not only to large events like hurricanes, but also to the much more common disasters that happen in every community — particularly house fires.
The grants will also help the Red Cross chapters build the partnerships that are essential to disaster response. Coordinating with other agencies and partners before a disaster strikes saves lives, time and money, and helps to ensure a more successful response.
Read “A Sure Presence” to learn about the full Red Cross response during the 2008 hurricane season.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.