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NEWS

Red Cross helps Florida residents recover from tornadoes
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Arindam Mukherjee
 
December 29, 2006

Residents are beginning to clean up and recover possessions from homes damaged by a series of tornadoes that ripped through four Florida counties on Christmas day.

More than 200 mobile homes in and around DeLand as well as dozens of single-family homes, at least three apartment buildings and a local university and flight school in the area were damaged when four tornadoes blew through Columbia, Pasco, Lake and Volusia counties in Florida on Monday, Dec. 25, 2006. According to the National Weather Service, winds topped 120 mph – strong enough to flip over teaching planes at the flight school in Daytona Beach.

American Red Cross disaster relief team members perform damage assessments in a Florida community where one of four tornadoes struck on Christmas day. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
American Red Cross disaster relief team members perform damage assessments in a Florida community where one of four tornadoes struck on Christmas day.
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

The Red Cross Response

Florida’s Coast to Coast chapter of the American Red Cross responded immediately, setting up emergency shelters for those driven from their homes by the tornadoes.

“Our immediate need was to provide shelter and feeding to the people,” said the chapter’s Director of Public Affairs Pam Hamlin. “We helped open two shelters, one in Daytona Beach and the other in DeLand, Volusia Co., and are feeding people at the affected sites.”

Due to declining need, the temporary shelters are now closed. Utilities have or are in the process of being restored to most areas, and residents who cannot return home are now staying with friends and family or have found accommodations in hotels/motels. With the focus of the Red Cross response shifting from emergency relief to recovery services, the chapter has opened two service centers – one at the DeLand YMCA on International Speedway Boulevard and on at the Daytona Beach Lions Club on White Street – to continue offering assistance such as distributing comfort and clean-up kits.

Red Cross volunteers use emergency response vehicles to deliver emergency water, meals and snacks to survivors of the recent tornadoes in Florida. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
Red Cross volunteers use emergency response vehicles to deliver emergency water, meals and snacks to survivors of the recent tornadoes in Florida.
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

Dianna Van Horn, who is a Public Affairs Manager with the American Red Cross currently helping support Florida’s Coast to Coast chapter in this response, indicated that the first day that the centers were open, Thursday, was slow. She expects the volume to pick up as word spreads.

Red Cross feeding operations also continue in impacted areas with the chapter delivering meals in Daytona and DeLand, where the bulk of damage occurred, via Red Cross emergency response vehicles. Also, the Red Cross has begun conducting damage assessments that will help in determining what types of assistance residents may need in order to beginning getting their lives back to normal.

Making a Difference

Red Cross workers and volunteers delivering food and conducting damage assessments spend time speaking with and comforting tornado survivors in a Florida community. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
Red Cross workers and volunteers delivering food and conducting damage assessments spend time speaking with and comforting tornado survivors in a Florida community.
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

Van Horn expressed pride at seeing the Red Cross volunteers making a difference in the lives of residents in these Florida communities.

“It’s interesting to me that we’re preparing to end one year and begin another doing what we do best – responding to people in crisis after a disaster,” said Van Horn. “Our own volunteers willingly stop their lives – putting everything on hold – to help those who have been forced to restart their lives in the coming year as a result of these tornadoes.”

Volunteers aren’t the only ones looking for opportunities to turn this tragedy around. Local organizations also have reached out to help those affected by these unexpected tornadoes in what has been dubbed by the chapter as “Operation Santa.” The corporate office of Toys “R” Us, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church and New Smyrna Beach Police Department joined forces to provide the local chapter with toys and funds to purchase gifts for children who lost their Christmas presents to the tornadoes.

“I just think it’s a marvelous thing that they’ve done,” said Hamlin, speaking of the organizations getting involved in the effort. “Local partners are so important to us and this is a wonder example of their invaluable contributions.”

In times of disaster, the Red Cross provides emergency shelter, food, water and can help those affected obtain replacement medications as well as clothing, cleaning supplies and other essentials such as hygiene products, linens and blankets. As important as helping the body is, looking after the emotional and mental well-being of disaster survivors is another priority for the Red Cross. Over the years, the Red Cross has learned that toys such as stuffed animals can bring tremendous comfort to those enduring a disaster. It is one more small way to help get them on the road to recovery.

Staying Safe in the Aftermath

As it becomes safe and accessible, more residents will return to their homes and communities to assess damage, clean up or recover belongings. The Red Cross urges caution and offers the following tips to help residents stay in the aftermath of the tornadoes:

  • Listen to local and emergency officials – Continue to use a portable radio or television to monitor local news for updates, and follow instructions from emergency officials.
  • Put on protective clothing – Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect yourself from broken items and debris.
  • Inspect your home – Inspect your home for damage and get everyone out if it is unsafe.
  • Watch for hazards in your neighborhood – Look out for fallen electrical wires, broken gas lines and flash flooding – foliage collecting in sewers this time of year can compound drainage problems. Report downed lines immediately so that utilities can be turned off at the source. Avoid hazardous debris such as broken glass or spilled chemicals and do not go into damaged buildings.

A comprehensive list of tips and additional information about staying safe after a tornado are available online in the “Disaster Services” section of the Red Cross Web site under the heading “After a Disaster.”

Weather tragedies such as this are a stark reminder that disaster can strike anywhere and at any time, often without any warning. Preparing ahead of time by getting or assembling an emergency supplies kit, making a plan and being informed about what types of disasters can affect your home and community, can be empowering and make you better able to react when the unexpected occurs.

To learn more about disaster preparedness and safety, visit the “Get Prepared” section of Redcross.org or contact your local Red Cross chapter.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated from the originally published version to correct a typographical error and add photographs.

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.


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