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My Turn

August 31, 2009

My Turn: Hurricane relief is about people

This week's "My turn" column is by Garrick Hoadley, an active member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team in Otsego County.

"So Garry, what was it like in Texas?"

This was the greeting I heard meeting friends and family after returning from a three-week trip last September.

I wasn't on vacation, but deployed with the American Red Cross to help those affected by hurricanes. As the current hurricane season nears its peak, I would like to share this memoir from 2008.

If you remember Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike, there was a fairly long lead time while they milled about in the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico before actually touching land.

No one knew exactly where or when or if they would come ashore. The Federal Emergency Management Association and the Red Cross did not want to get caught unprepared, so eight volunteers from the Red Cross Southern Tier Chapter, four from Otsego County, were among several hundred "prepositioned," sent first to Mississippi, then to Florida when Hanna was a threat, and ultimately to Texas to help Ike's evacuees.

My team finally set up in College Station, home of Texas A&M University, to staff a small shelter in a church youth center. This was not in the predicted path of Ike and was where evacuees from the coast were being sent.

With five other shelters in the area, we were an overflow shelter and never had more than 32 evacuees.

The Grace Bible Church people had the place well organized when we arrived, with inflatable mattresses, fleece blankets and a pillow for each resident set out on the gym floor. The kitchen was overflowing with donated food.

We set up an around-the-clock watch to check in new arrivals, keep the place clean and serve meals. One of our members liked to cook and, with the bountiful supply of ingredients on hand, we prepared most of our own meals rather than depend on food from the central kitchen run by the Southern Baptist Convention and delivered by the Red Cross.

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