Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Answers Amid the Ashes

Red Cross disaster worker Felicia Adams comforts shelter resident Shannon Shine after she learns her house has been destroyed in the wildfires. (Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross)

"I don't know what to do," sobbed Shannon Shine, a resident of Bastrop, Texas whose house was destroyed by the recent wildfires. Last week alone, wildfires burned more than 170,000 acres.

Unfortunately her grief is not unique. Thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes, and many now find they will never be able to return. They don't know what to do, but with the help of the American Red Cross, they have a place to start.

Overwhelmed after learning her house had been engulfed by flames, Shine met with veteran Red Cross disaster worker, Felicia Adams.

Adams is no stranger to destruction, having worked in a shelter following Hurricane Katrina. Adams offered a shoulder to cry on and an answer to each question. More than 200 disaster workers like Adams are working in Texas, using not only their expertise in disaster relief and recovery, but their compassion to bring comfort to residents who have lost everything.

Not Done Yet

Conditions could not be worse for firefighters desperately trying to quell the flames and save communities. Texas is currently experiencing its worst drought since 1895 and this summer has been the second warmest on record, helping sustain the fires that first responders have battled since December. Strong winds from Tropical Storm Lee literally fanned the flames, helping the fire to spread. Today, there are 180 different wildfires burning in Texas.

One of the worst affected areas is Bastrop County, where more than 34,000 acres have burned and the fire is only 60 percent contained. Of growing concern are Cass and Marion counties in northern Texas along the Arkansas and Louisiana border, where thousands of homes are threatened.

In response to the growing wildfires, the Red Cross has opened seven shelters, hosting more than 800 overnight stays. We've provided more than 2,000 health and mental health consultations. Many people have reported breathing problems from inhaling smoke in the air, and the Red Cross is providing care for them.

American Red Cross workers assist at a community run shelter at Bastrop Middle School after wildfires sweep the region, driving thousands of people from endangered neighborhoods and burning hundreds of houses to the ground. American Red Cross volunteer and respiratory therapist Albert Hernandez checks on young Samantha Pollitt, age 10, who is undergoing nebulizer treatment after having trouble breathing. Many Bastrop residents, both young and old, were having respiratory problems due to the large amount of smoke in the air from the wildfires. (Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross)

We're distributed nearly 1,000 comfort kits providing hygiene items such as toothbrushes, soap and shampoo, and 17,000 additional relief items like cleaning supplies. As residents are allowed back into their neighborhoods, Red Cross disaster workers are assisting residents, providing emotional support as well as water and snacks as they survey the damage.

Support for Military Families

The Red Cross is providing special assistance to military families affected by the wildfires near Fort Hood. Many families are struggling through this disaster without the support of spouses, parents and other important family members who are currently deployed. Beyond comfort and care the Red Cross is also helping verify damages and sending emergency notifications to deployed service members on behalf of family members.

Our verification services help military authorities make critical decisions about granting leave to service members so they can return home to support their families. The local chapters in Waco and Austin are helping identify needs and facilitate the communications between service members and their loved ones at home. Trained caseworkers follow up with military families to make sure they are aware of additional programs and services outside of traditional disaster referrals. Such partnerships exist with the National Guard Foundation, Military OneSource and other organizations like those that provide military-specific mental health support.

This is also a part of the Red Cross mission year-round. From the earliest days of Red Cross work on the battlefields of the Civil War, our organization continues to provide assistance to our military members today. We have Service to the Armed Forces staff and volunteers on 58 U.S. military installations and deployment sites including Afghanistan and Kuwait. Each year, the Red Cross delivers more than 600,000 emergency communications. The Red Cross also assists military families as well as wounded service members both at home and abroad by offering services such as hospital visits, courses on coping with deployment and financial assistance. The Red Cross briefs service members when they enter the military, at pre-deployment events and almost every week at military bases across the country to ensure military members and their families are aware of available resources.

The Red Cross will continue to help all those affected in Texas. As firefighters continue to battle the blaze, we will expand our response to assist new communities, while continuing to meet the recovery needs of those in existing operations. With the generosity of American donors, we can answer the call for help whenever we are needed.

American Red Cross workers visit the Tahitian Village neighborhood of Bastrop soon after homeowners are allowed to return. Red Cross worker Barbara Behling looks around a burned out house in the Tahitian Village neighborhood of Bastrop. (Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross)

The Support of Donors

You can help people affected by disasters like wildfires, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. To make a donation, visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross-North Texas Region, 4800 Harry Hines Blvd, Dallas, TX 75235.

To learn more about the work of the American Red Cross in the U.S. and around the world, please visit

Sifting through the ashes of Texas wildfires


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