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NEWS

From Kenya to Cactus – Disasters share a Common Thread
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Anita J Foster
 
April 26, 2007

American Red Cross workers are renowned for traveling long distances to help those in need. After a powerful tornado leveled a third of the small town of Cactus, Texas, volunteers began arriving from Kansas, Oklahoma and other parts of the state, but no one traveled further than Anthony Mwangi.

Massive destruction remains after a significant tornado slammed into Cactus, Texas. (Photo Credit: Anita J. Foster/American Red Cross)
Massive destruction remains after a significant tornado slammed into Cactus, Texas.
(Photo Credit: Anita J. Foster/American Red Cross)

Mwangi is a representative of the Kenya Red Cross Society interning with the American Red Cross a world away from his own. Stationed in Dallas/Fort Worth, he wondered whether he would witness one of the notorious tornadoes that he had seen only on television.

“When I arrived, I heard all of these stories about some tornadoes that had recently hit the area,” said Mwangi. “In my country, we don’t have anything like a tornado so I was curious if I would see one during my visit.”

Mwangi wasn’t curious for long. Less than a week into his internship, he got the call to action—a tornado outbreak created havoc in the Panhandle of the state.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was told to pack my bags because we were going to respond to a tornado,” said a shocked Mwangi. “I really didn’t know what to expect.”

Upon arriving in Cactus – some five hours northwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth area – Mwangi stepped into an unknown world. More than 300 residential homes were affected, with 120 of them completely destroyed. The handful of businesses in the town of 2,500 people were no longer operational either.

“These houses were just gone,” said Mwangi. “Literally, there was nothing left to even pick up. It’s hard to think that a tornado can leave so much destruction in its path.” Mwangi, like most Americans, was dismayed by this unique disaster.

“We were at this one house where all the walls were gone,” said Mwangi. “It was as if we could take a private look into the lives of the family who lived there. Right on the kitchen countertop sat a stack of dinner plates and the coffee mugs were hanging on hooks right above the sink. Now, the walls were ripped off the house and tossed about the neighborhood, but the dishes weren’t broken. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was shocking to see.”

Anthony Mwangi, a representative of the Kenya Red Cross Society currently interning with the American Red Cross, helps assess tornado damage in Texas. (Photo Credit: Anita J. Foster/American Red Cross)
Anthony Mwangi, a representative of the Kenya Red Cross Society currently interning with the American Red Cross, helps assess tornado damage in Texas.
(Photo Credit: Anita J. Foster/American Red Cross)

Not new to responding to disasters, Mwangi’s shock didn’t last long as he jumped in to assist with assessing the damage, working at the Red Cross shelter that was swarming with more than 200 residents and documenting the work of the American Red Cross.

“The work of the American Red Cross was quite efficient,” said Mwangi. “Emergency Response Vehicles were delivering meals house-to-house, people had cots to sleep on at the shelter, and I got to see how the American Red Cross helps with financial assistance.”

While Mwangi has learned a great deal about the wrath of Mother Nature, he’s also learned that disaster victims around the world wear the same face.

“There were hundreds of adults and children at the shelter and they looked so sad,” he said. “They knew there was nothing left of their homes. While I’ve never seen tornado damage before, I’ve seen those faces before.”

The Kenya Red Cross Society responds to large-scale disasters on a regular basis. From floods that displace thousands of people to settlement fires that affect the most vulnerable, the Kenya Red Cross responds like its American counterpart.

“When we show up after a disaster, we work to do all that we can to bring the family comfort,” said Mwangi. “That’s our only mission. To help them deal with their losses and to take away some of the sadness that we see every day.”

In Cactus, Texas, the American Red Cross is assisting more than 300 families begin their recovery. More than 10,000 meals and snacks have been served and 260 people have slept at the Red Cross shelters. Mwangi will remain in the United States until the first of May and hopes that this will be his only tornado response.

Anita J. Foster is the Metroplex Communications Officer for the American Red Cross in Dallas/Fort Worth.

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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