Red Cross volunteers from Pa. head to Florida as cleanup continues in Carolinas
Jonnee Zipnock was ready to go when the Red Cross called last month.
The Greensburg nurse spent 14 days in and around Fayetteville, N.C., as a Red Cross volunteer.
Zipnock, 48, is among 85 volunteers from the Greater Pennsylvania Region of the Red Cross who have served on-site in the last month during back-to-back hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida.
Local Red Cross volunteers were still cycling in and out of the Carolinas on Wednesday, assessing damage from Hurricane Florence, as officials with the Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region sent a nine-member team to Florida to staff shelters needed with the arrival of Hurricane Michael.
Michael, the second named hurricane to hit the United States in a month, made landfall along the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm.
As the storm surged ashore in Florida, Red Cross volunteer Jaime Cintron made his way across the rain-soaked landscape of Pender County, N.C., performing damage assessment estimates.
Cintron, of Ligonier, headed south Oct. 2. He said he will remain in the Carolinas helping document damage relief needs through Oct. 23.
“The rain is starting again. We have to go. We have four homes to visit,” Cintron said during a brief phone interview.
Regional Red Cross spokesman Dan Tobin said 3,100 Red Cross volunteers across the nation have deployed to the Carolinas and Florida as the storms hit.
Volunteers staff shelters, provide health and mental health services and perform damage assessments to determine how much assistance will be needed. In some cases, Tobin said it’s as simple as providing clean-up kits to owners of homes that sustained minor damage. In other instances, where homes are not habitable, it may mean providing assistance for temporary housing and connecting homeowners to agencies that can step in with help.
Although they are unpaid, the Red Cross picks up the costs for volunteers’ travel and their needs on site.
“It’s costly to mount these operations. But we do fundraising, and we have corporations who agree to be disaster responding partners with us. Just this week, Dick’s Sporting Goods gave us $250,000,” Tobin said.
Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina four weeks ago, dumping up to 3 feet of rain in some areas, triggering flooding that displaced thousands and killing 51 people, including victims in South Carolina and Virginia. Red Cross officials said 550 people remained in shelters Wednesday.
Another 4,000 people who evacuated the Florida coast in advance of Michael were in shelters last night.
While the effort after Florence is beginning to shift from sheltering to casework and bulk distribution, sheltering is the primary concern for people in Michael’s path, Tobin said.
He said the regional Red Cross will put out a call for more volunteers as the extent of damage from Michael becomes apparent. Trained volunteers always answer the call.
Zipnock, who works full time for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said her experience in Fayetteville cemented her commitment to volunteer. She’s home, but said she’ll head south again if her employer approves.
“Last year, I was on standby with the commonwealth to go help with Hurricane Irma, but we were never called up. I’ve been a nurse for 28 years. This was something I’d never done before, and I felt I could totally help.
“It’s very fulfilling. You get more from the experience than the people you’re helping. You hear their stories and see their lives. People who have lost everything are picking up and getting on with their lives. It just puts things in perspective,” Zipnock said.
Tobin said he hears such comments again and again when the call goes out for help.
“Some who were not out for Florence will go now, and some who were out will go back,” Tobin said. “Some love these deployments. They love helping others. They are available and they go. If they get called back, they go again. It is heartwarming.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.