As residents from the San Bruno Fire began returning to their homes over the weekend, Red Cross volunteers were there with them, offering them the comfort and support they needed following the terror of the fire.
"There were lots of tears and hugs as residents came back to their homes,” said Jo Romaniello, a marriage and family therapist volunteering with the American Red Cross Santa Cruz Chapter. “Despite this horrendous experience and horrible tragedy that happened in this neighborhood, people were really able to pull together. It was really a pleasure for us to be able to be there with them and to support them in that first impact of coming home."
Romaniello and fellow Red Cross volunteer Sharon Parker spent Monday walking around the area meeting members of the community, along with other teams of disaster mental health volunteers. Most of the residents in the neighborhood on Monday were "green tagged," meaning that their homes had suffered some damage from smoke and ash, but were not totally destroyed in the conflagration. Many of them expressed the anxiety and fear they experienced on the night of the explosion.
Romaniello was especially impressed and inspired to see residents comforting each other and truly forging a sense of community.
"It was in some ways extremely inspiring. There was a strong sense of 'I'm glad you're OK' and 'I'm really glad you're still here,' and trading phone numbers so that in the future they could be there for one another," she said.
On Tuesday, Red Cross volunteers accompanied "red tagged" residents, whose homes were totally decimated by the fire, on a bus tour of the area in order to provide services as shocked residents viewed the devastation for the first time. Firefighters raised the American flag at the scene during that tour amidst tears and despair.
"Yellow tagged" residents, whose homes were partially destroyed, were also permitted a limited-time visit to their homes on Tuesday as well. Red Cross mental health workers were standing by to provide any necessary counseling and comfort.
Red Cross volunteers plan to remain on the scene, as residents move forward on their recovery, helping them to process and get through the challenging times ahead. Red Cross volunteers continue to support residents in the affected neighborhoods, as well as at the local assistance center, where residents are meeting with the Red Cross and other community organizations for assistance.