The American Red Cross is helping thousands of people in Louisiana affected by the devastating flooding there, likely the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. More than 7,000 people spent Tuesday night in Red Cross and community shelters, and thousands more are without power in hot, humid conditions.
The state has been hit by 6.9 trillion gallons of rain – enough to fill 10.4 million Olympic pools.
Several hundred Red Crossers are on the ground in Louisiana now, and by Friday there will be more than 1,000 workers from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 36 volunteers from all over California are responding to provide relief.
The Central California Region is doing its part to support not only Louisiana flood relief efforts, but also wildfire efforts affecting our neighboring regions to the north and south. So far this week we’ve sent a total of eight local volunteers to relief efforts in California and Louisiana. Six volunteers from the Central Valley, Kern, and Ventura chapters are in Louisiana supporting shelter operations, health services, and distribution of recovery supplies. Two volunteers, one each from the Central Valley and Ventura chapters, are supporting the Clayton Fire burning in Lake County.
The Red Cross and its partners in Louisiana have served almost 100,000 meals and snacks since the onset of the flooding. The Red Cross has also mobilized over 60 disaster response vehicles, nearly 40,000 ready-to-eat meals, and dozens of trailers filled with shelter and kitchen supplies to bolster relief efforts.
Initial reports indicate responding to this disaster could cost more than $10 million. People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recovery from these disasters.
In the aftermath of the Erskine Fire, Edythe Catalano was one of the hundreds of people assisted by the Red Cross after having to evacuate her home.
When the fire initially broke out it quickly spread and consumed dozens of homes in its path. Catalano’s South Lake home was one of hundreds endangered by the blaze, it was her neighbor Tim who stepped in to help.
“He said, ‘the fire is coming this way and you’ve got to get out’ and I said well I’ve got to grab some things and he said, ‘grab your cane and your purse and that’s all you’re taking,’” Catalano said.
After escaping the area threatened by the inferno, Catalano ended up at the Kernville Elementary School Red Cross shelter. A year earlier, Catalano had just moved to her South Lake home from San Pedro to be closer to her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend, who live in Squirrel Valley.
While her daughter’s home was spared in the fire, it was left without power in the blistering heat, making it unfit for 86-year-old Catalano.
During the evacuation, Catalano was forced to leave behind many of her possessions, including her vital medications. Once at the shelter, Red Cross volunteers and medical staff assisted her in getting the medication that she relies on, free of charge.
“The Red Cross has really been good and I couldn’t believe they took care of the co-payments on my prescriptions because that is what worried me because I had my prescriptions at home, but I didn’t have many of them here. I thought oh my god, if I have to make co-payments on all of those at one time and the doctor said, ‘no I am going to go to the pharmacy and pick up all of the stuff for you and there will be no charge,’” Catalano said.
During the days following the evacuation the Red Cross shelter became her home and the volunteers, her extended family. That bond it what led one volunteer to go above and beyond to ensure Catalano was comfortable.
“So she said, ‘what you need is some slip on slippers’ and I said well I have some at home and she said, ‘well I am going to get you a pair,’” Catalano said.
As a first-time client of the Red Cross, Catalano was impressed with the compassion shown to her by the volunteers and the food.
“I think they do a really good job for all of the people they’re serving,” Catalano said.
While Catalano in unsure of how long it will take for the power to be restored at her daughter’s house so she can move in there, she does know that she will have a place with the Red Cross as long as she needs it. Somewhere she will receive a nice place to sleep, good food, the medications she relies on, and information on services to help her recover from the devastating Erskine Fire.
“Wonderful. They’ve just gone out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible under the circumstances,” Catalano said.
Cindy Huge and Zach Kramer
Red Cross Volunteers
Read more stories from the Red Cross Erskine Fire response.
The Erskine Fire began of the afternoon of Thursday, June 23, 2016, evacuating thousands of Kern River Valley residents and destroying more than 280 homes. While the Red Cross was providing relief and comfort to the impacted families on Friday, July 1, the Deer Fire broke out in Bear Valley Springs, near the mountain town of Tehachapi. The Red Cross quickly deployed a shelter team to provide shelter to the evacuated residents. These are the stories from the field of those who lost everything and those who responded to help.
What is the most important thing to save in a fire? According to fire evacuees Grace and Patrick Jackson the most important thing is to be sure they are both safe. Recent victims of a home fire, the couple were faced with a second challenge when they were shopping at a local grocery store and received a telephone alert to standby for an evacuation due to a wildfire.
They were being alerted to the eruption of the Deer Fire near Bear Valley Springs which began Friday afternoon and has since burned 1,785 acres in the Tehachapi area.
They quickly drove home to retrieve their dog and belongings and were met by fire and law enforcement personnel organizing firefighting efforts in front of their house. With fire quickly advancing towards the back of their home, fire personnel asked them to evacuate immediately.
“We were scared to death,” said Patrick.
Gathering their dog and a few belongings, the couple sped away to spend the next two days with friends, worrying they might not see their home again.
They had just moved back into their home seven weeks ago – after it had been damaged by a home fire that began in their fireplace.
After checking into the American Red Cross shelter on Sunday, they went to church and would be returning later in the day to the shelter for a meal. They noted they had not eaten much in the last 12 hours.
Married for two years, Grace and Patrick emphasized that the most important thing to them was that they were both safe. Patrick stressed that going through two fires and a work related injury was rough, but that everything was going to work out ok.
Sandy Dralle & Cindy Huge
Red Cross Volunteers
While most people recognize Hawaii as the Aloha State by the friendly attitude of its residents towards visitors, Hawaii State Representative Ryan Yamane took the Aloha Spirit on the road and volunteered to serve as a Disaster Mental Health worker at the Erskine Fire event in Lake Isabella, California. At last count over 280 homes were destroyed, leaving hundreds homeless in this small foothill community.
Prior to serving as chair of the Committee on Land and Water, Ryan worked as a Clinical Director at Hookupono, an outpatient social services program serving at risk youth in Honolulu. With a degree psychology and masters degrees in social work and business administration, Ryan was well equipped to serve as part of the Red Cross Mental Health team that provides emotional support and resources to victims, and staff. Ryan’s engaging smile, quick wit and warm personality make it evident that he is just the right person to help those in need, as well has his constituents back home in Hawaii.
A Red Cross volunteer since 2006, Ryan was originally scheduled to support efforts for flooding in West Virginia, but was redeployed to California at the last minute. He has previously responded to hurricane events in Hawaii and flooding in Texas. His current assignment could last from ten to fourteen days.
“With physical injury damage to the person is easily seen and treated,” Yamane notes, “but with mental and emotional issues, they are harder to recognize and address. Our role is not to “fix” our clients, but rather to guide them to the resources that will assist in their healing and recovery.” According to Ryan, the Disaster Mental Health worker position requires a person who can listen, empathize and connect with clients without being overcome by the often disastrous circumstances of the event. “As difficult as the job can be, I have seen communities come together and bond, demonstrating tremendous hope and spirit to overcome. It’s really about neighbors helping neighbors, we are here for a limited period of time – it’s their family, friends and neighbors that shoulder the long term responsibility for recovery,” he notes.
When asked about incidents that stand out in his memory as a volunteer, Ryan quickly recounted dealing with a resident during the Texas floods. “It’s pouring rain and there is a guy standing in the fast moving water, at risk of being swept away,” he recalls. “So I ask him, “Hi, so what are you doing in the water? To which he answered that he is looking for crawfish. I did my very best to convince him that was probably not a good choice at that time.”
Red Cross Volunteer
The Red Cross continues to support local families affected by disasters like the Erskine and Deer fires. Learn more about the response efforts here.
An ideal Father’s Day for John Parsons would usually be sleeping in and reading the newspaper. But on this Father’s Day, John and many more volunteers like him, are instead giving their time to volunteer on the American Red Cross Sherpa Fire response in Santa Barbara County.
The father to three children and three grandchildren, John has spent his whole life caring for his family and others. As a Marine serving during Vietnam, he contacted the families of servicemembers who were wounded or killed in the war and helped with funeral arrangements.
The idea of becoming a Red Cross volunteer came to John when his family was evacuated during a wildfire. The Red Cross was there to provide shelter and comfort for them. Soon after retiring, John became a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) member to help families affected by home fires, as well as use his skills and experience to support disaster logistics.
“It’s nice when you can help face to face, like on the DAT team. But I do Logistics, and I’m good at that, and organized. It always feels good to be able to use a skill,” said John.
Logistics is what you’ll find John doing today, instead of relaxing on Father’s Day. Logistics volunteers like John play a key role behind the scenes of a Red Cross disaster response. From managing facilities to running warehouses, this team is critical to supporting the Red Cross mission.
Father and Grandfather Keith McLellan initially joined the Red Cross family as board member.
“When I was on the board of Red Cross I was very impressed with the people serving on the board, and the volunteers, and the staff serving at the Red Cross,” said Keith, “I decided that when I retired I would volunteer with the Red Cross now that I have time.”
“I have the gift of time and compassion and so both of those lend themselves to giving away. It’s a philosophy that we should always give away what we can.”
Today Keith is spending Father’s Day working in the Red Cross Sherpa Fire shelter, helping families impacted by evacuations.
“One of the principles that I think is helpful is any act of kindness small or large is always valuable. Just being available to listen and support and walk alongside somebody who has needs should be second nature. And that’s what defines community,” said Keith.
Thankfully this father to three boys and grandfather to two granddaughters was able to celebrate Father’s Day with his family early by going to dinner last night. To him, an ideal Father’s Day is simply “Where I’m in a good relationship with my children and my family. Everything is extra. Everything else is a bonus. And a chance to be with them, know that they’re well, is the best Father’s Day gift a father can have.”
There are 19.3 million military veterans in the United States as of 2014, and California is home to the largest veteran population in the nation with nearly two million. That means there are countless people and organizations like the Red Cross working hard every day to support our local veterans and their families.
Two of those people have been honored as this year’s Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Heroes: Sandra Gould and Pete Pepper.
Sandra Gould accepts her Heroes honor from PG&E Rep and Red Cross Board Chair Mike Meko
Pete Pepper accepts her Heroes honor from PG&E Rep and Red Cross Board Chair Mike Meko
Sandra plays an important dual role, serving as both a Case Manager with Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) through CAPSLO and also as a Veteran’s Service Representative with SLO County Veterans Services. With her support, the SSVF program has assisted 143 veterans and their families.
Watch her story:
Pete Pepper is the founder of Central Coast Veterans Helping Veterans and serves as the Co-Mentor Coordinator for the San Luis Obispo Veterans Treatment Court. He has also made multiple trips to Vietnam with fellow veterans, creating an award winning documentary, Killing Memories, about their healing journey.
Watch his story:
Both Sandra and Pete were nominated by their peers and community for these awards, because of their compassion and dedication to serving military veterans.
“What Sandra has done for the homeless veterans in our county is nothing short of amazing,” said nominator Robert Ellis, “Sandra has played a most significant role in this success by connecting these veterans with the benefits they deserved, and were not getting, that enabled them to move out of the creek or off the street and into permanent housing.”
“Pete is an outstanding example of a vet advocating for vets,” said Sr. Theresa Harpin. His advocacy for local veterans has made the Veteran’s Mentor Program “one of the finest in the country.”
The work of everyday heroes like Sandra and Pete can often go unsung, but the Red Cross is proud to honor their selfless acts of compassion and courage. Learn more about the Heroes for the American Red Cross program at redcross.org/sloheroes.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company is proud to present this year’s Service to the Armed Forces Hero awards. The Red Cross is proud to be celebrating a 40-year safety partnership with PG&E.
Central California volunteer and registered nurse Eleanor Guzik has devoted over 4,000 hours since 2012 to serving others through the American Red Cross. On March 9, 2016 Guzik was honored with the Ann Magnussen award, the highest honor of individual nursing achievement in the American Red Cross. From disasters to teaching other volunteers, Guzik has experience in many areas of volunteer work with the Red Cross.
For Guzik, her path to becoming a Red Cross volunteer began just after Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the storm, Red Cross volunteers were desperately needed to help those impacted by one of the United States’ worst disasters.
“I heard a public service announcement that your local Red Cross was training, so I went down to the Camarillo office and got some training and you were on a plane two days later,” Guzik said.
Following her work on the front lines of Katrina, Guzik served as the Preparedness Health
and Safety Services Nurse Consultant and in this role helped engage nurses as volunteer instructors. Additionally she is a Red Cross facilitator with the State of California Service Team.
“Eleanor exhibited leadership excellence both in developing the Care Assistance program and in leading disaster health services in multiple disaster relief operations,” said Red Crosser Mary Casey-Lockyer, “She is a true example of a volunteer who supports the red mission through leadership excellence.”
Guzik also uses her previous disaster experience as an instructor and helps to develop training that will help volunteers be better prepared to help those in need after a natural disaster strikes.
“Eleanor took the initiative to develop a training for volunteers to be care assistants in our shelters for people with functional and access needs [Disaster Health Services] was able to expand on her initial effort to develop a standardized program that will be trained to perform basic tasks and help residents with basic needs while staying in our shelters. Without Eleanor’s effort, this new service would not be available as a standard offering,” Valerie Cole, Disaster Health Services and Mental Health Manager said.
As a volunteer, Guzik has gone above and beyond to help those affected by disasters. In Fall of 2015 wildfires ripped through California’s Lake, Calaveras and Amador Counties destroying more than 1,7000 homes and displacing thousands of families.
In those fires were five people who lost more than their home, but their ability to hear after losing their hearing aids. That is when Guzik stepped up to help those five strangers. Guzik had recalled meeting Marilyn Reilly, a volunteer in the Desert to the Sea Region, who has worked in the hearing aid business.
After speaking with Guzik, Reilly sought help from Sonus Hearing Healthcare Professionals. Persistence from the pair paid off when Sonus, with support from Starkey Hearing Foundation, announced that the five victims would receive hearing aids for free.
At an event in February, four of the five fire victims were fitted for new hearing aids. Combined efforts provided a total of more than $30,000 worth of hearing aids.
Most recently, Guzik has worked to with Red Cross Government Relations to change restrictive Automated External Defibrillator (AED) legislation. Guzik was instrumental in providing real word examples of why the laws around AEDs needed to be updated in California. In addition, she provided research and input during the legislative process.
On August 28, 2014 California Senator Jerry Hill’s Bill to expand the availability of life-saving AEDs unanimously passed the Senate and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 9, 2015.
For Guzik, one of the biggest positives of volunteering with the Red Cross is meeting other people with the same passion for helping others.
“One of the privileges of volunteering with the Red Cross is the volunteers, the other people you get to work with. They’re exceptional people, I am grateful that I got that opportunity,” Guzik said.
This passion for working as a team and building relationships with fellow volunteers is why Guzik has been honored with the American Red Cross Ann Magnussen award.
“The more I do, the more I love it. It just fills your heart, the work does. And I probably put in as many hours or more hours as I did when I got paid,” Guzik said.
The following blog post is written by guest writer Brian Bullock and was originally published by Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The Red Cross is proud to be celebrating a 40-year safety partnership with PG&E.
Like a lot of PG&E employees, Beverly Jones has sat through her share of Safety Minutes prior to meetings where the facilitator assigns someone to phone 9-1-1 in case of an emergency, someone to chase down the closest automatic external defibrillator and then finds someone who is certified in cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Even though she was certified to perform CPR, she admits she was reluctant to volunteer to use it, at least until Oct. 22 when she had to use it to save her husband Michael’s life.
Beverly, who started working at Diablo Canyon Power Plant as a contractor with Pullman Construction 32 years ago and now is an administrative specialist at the Old Santa Fe Road warehouse, was sitting with Michael, whom she met when they were both working in the General Construction Mechanical department over 30 years ago, watching the San Francisco 49ers get soundly thrashed by the Seattle Seahawks when Michael, after several days of not feeling well, went into convulsions and slumped lifelessly onto the couch next to her.
“We thought he had flu symptoms. Started on a Tuesday. He just couldn’t keep any food down,” Beverly said, recalling what led up to her husband’s collapse. “It just seemed like what people have when they get the flu.
“We were starting to watch football and he said I’m feeling a little dizzy. About the third time he said that, he just started convulsing. Sitting on the couch, he just started convulsing and then slumped over. All that fast.”
Just that quickly, Beverly pulled Michael onto the floor of their San Luis Obispo home and started chest compressions to keep him alive. She said she was lucky that she had been recertified in CPR in a class at PG&E’s warehouse organized by coworker Karen Reitzke, a buyer in the company’s supply chain, on Oct. 2. She had taken a similar class to be certified some 20 years earlier at Diablo Canyon.
In the heat of the moment, though, she got confused about exactly what to do. CPR training has changed since she first took the class, going from both chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, to just solely chest compressions.
“It was kind of weird to me, I remembered I had to do compressions and I knew I needed to breathe, but I forgot to start counting. Then it was like ‘Oh wait, I don’t have to breathe,’” she explained. “I was by myself and so I knew I had to call 911, but I still had to do the compressions. I called 911 and I was trying to hold the phone and trying to do compressions and (the operator) told me to put the phone down but don’t hang up.
“We live maybe a half-mile, if that, from the fire department. So I could hear the sirens coming. So I calmed down and just started the CPR again.”
Eight firefighters from the San Luis Obispo Fire Department and a San Luis Ambulance crew all converged on the Jones’ home. After Beverly left Michael long enough to let them in, they went to work and had to use an AED three times on Michael to get his heart started again.
“I heard them have to put the paddles on him and do the “clear” three times. So essentially in my brain, I think he died three times. I heard one of them say ‘Go check on the wife,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no! That’s me,” she continued, adding she was downstairs trying to calm their dog, Bella, a protective Weimaraner who had been frantically barking when the responders invaded her home.
By that time, she was sequestered downstairs as the EMS people worked to revive her husband. It wasn’t until she heard Michael moaning that she knew he was alive. He was taken to French Hospital Medical Center where he spent 11 days in the Intensive Care Unit, part of it in an induced coma-like state. Beverly learned from the doctors that her 59-year-old husband actually had developed pneumonia and had aspirated which caused sepsis, a blood infection, which led to his cardiac arrest.
Over the next several days, Michael and Beverly were visited by three of the eight firefighters and the ambulance driver who responded to their emergency. It turned out that firefighters from Station 1 and Station 4, along with an ambulance crew all responded to Beverly’s 911 call, and it was a good thing, too. It took many of them to get the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Michael strapped to a backboard and down their home’s narrow stairs. Coincidentally, one of the emergency responders was at San Luis Obispo’s Farmers Market giving CPR lessons to children.
“The ambulance driver gave me a big hug,” she said, recalling the days after the incident. “They were amazing. They just did their thing and it was pretty amazing. French, all of its staff, everyone in the ICU was amazing, too.”
Beverly learned from a nurse in the ICU that what she did to keep her husband alive as she waited for help was pretty amazing, too. The nurse told Beverly that there was another man in the ICU who hadn’t received CPR prior to the EMS response and she said they weren’t sure if he was going to make it.
Michael is back at home with an internal defibrillator inserted into his chest and outside of a sore throat, which resulted when he removed his own aspirator, and a few cracked ribs, courtesy of Beverly’s energetic CPR, he’s doing fine.
“I can remember in the class they kept saying ‘Don’t be afraid if you hear ribs pop, or you break ribs.’ Part of me was thinking I’m not hearing anything popping, so I don’t know if I’m doing it right,” she said, recalling her latest CPR instruction. “I didn’t find out until a week later, the doctors said he had a couple of fractured ribs. I was like ‘Oh, I must have done it right.’ Two weeks later, that’s the only thing that’s bothering him is the fractured ribs.”
The whole experience proved just how valuable taking those CPR classes through PG&E was to her and her husband. It also had her thinking back to all of those Safety Minutes she has been through.
“The thing is, is I was always the one who was reluctant to raise my hand when they asked for CPR certified. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be responsible for someone else. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. There’s just something that makes you hesitant to go, ‘Hey, yeah, I’ll be the one that saves that person’s life,’” she admitted, adding that has all changed, now. “Essentially, for people who don’t know what to do, they need to do something. Do anything.
“It was strictly God and adrenaline that got me through it,” she added. “People ask me ‘Do you know how many compressions you did?’ I have no idea. ‘Were you tired?’ I don’t remember.”
It’s what she did remember that saved her husband’s life.
“God bless Beverly!” Michael said, adding he hopes everybody who knows them or hears their story learns from their experience. “Learn CPR. Strangers and, more importantly, your family may need to depend on it.”
The Red Cross offers a wide range or CPR/AID/First-Aid training courses. Find an upcoming class near you by visiting redcross.org/take-a-class.
Beverly’s story is part of the Heroes for the American Red Cross series, where local, everyday heroes are honored for their compassion and courage. Learn more at redcross.org/sloheroes.