Red Cross: Response after the tornado
By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Jan. 6, 2003
Volunteers from the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross were busy at the close of 2002 with relief efforts for residents of Newton and Lauderdale County. A tornado ripped through the area destroying hundreds of homes and businesses less than three weeks ago.
Cheri Barry, executive director, discussed continuing relief efforts with The Meridian Star's editorial board.
The Meridian Star: Tell us how the American Red Cross Key Chapter got word of the tornado on Dec. 19, and how it responded to the disaster.
Cheri Barry: I was having lunch with Mike McGrevey, Key Chapter chairman of the board, in a local restaurant in Meridian.
I was contacted by Gordon Stewart, Health and Safety Administrator, stating that a tornado had touched down in Newton County. The initial report stated that there were many fatalities, injuries and severe damage to businesses and homes.
Without hesitation, I left Meridian in the storm, not knowing that the tornado's next stop was Lauderdale County. I headed straight for the community of Newton, so the residents would know that the American Red Cross was present and help was on the way. We immediately started assessing the damage, appointing the necessary teams to get assistance to this community.
The Meridian Star: Has the Key Chapter received many donations in reaction to the tornado?
Barry: The Key Chapter is thrilled to report that, to date, we have received $15,800 in voluntary donations from the citizens of Lauderdale and Newton counties.
Our first donation was received within 24 hours from the Newton Wal-Mart in the amount of $10,000. Mississippi Power followed suit with a $5,000 contribution. All donated monies received will go to the Newton/Lauderdale County Disaster fund to meet the immediate needs of the victims of this disaster.
The Meridian Star: What sort of help has the Key Chapter needed to give people in response to this most recent disaster?
Barry: We are in the process of building the capacity of the Key Chapter to better serve the citizens of our six-county area. We need not only financial support of the communities, but volunteers to run our disaster program by working with fund-raising, disaster assistance, family services, mass care, emergency response vehicle driving and damage assessment.
After the first of the year, we will be teaching classes in disaster services and we urge the community to come and learn and help us help others. If you are interested, please call the Key Chapter at 485-5151 or come by the Chapter House at 1711 24th Ave.
The Meridian Star: How are efforts to form disaster response teams going?
Barry: We are working extremely hard to get Disaster Action Teams (DATs) in place in all six counties. We presently have a fantastic team in Lauderdale County. This team works with the local firefighters to be on the scene, immediately, serving the victims of fire and disaster. We are able to give immediate assistance, not only financially, buy morally.
The Meridian Star: What was your first impression when you saw the destruction for yourself?
Barry: I was devastated when I saw the damage this tornado had brought to the community of Newton and Lauderdale County. On the other hand, I was so thankful that there were no deaths and the injuries were limited to about 50 people. We have so much to be thankful for. Businesses and homes can be rebuilt, but the value of a life can not.
The Meridian Star: What can people do to assist the Key Chapter?
Barry: Donate money and donate time. The Red Cross sees that the immediate and necessary needs of all disaster victims have been met.
The Red Cross makes sure that immediate food, shelter and clothing is disbursed to all the victims in need. Within 12 hours of this disaster, we had placed families in area motels and given them disbursing orders for hot meals and clothing, and our two service centers were opened in Newton and Meridian to meet the immediate needs of these families.
The Meridian Star: How many families were helped by the Key Chapter as a result of this month's tornado and how many families would you say have been helped this year?
Barry: Our numbers are stacking daily with this disaster. There were 143 businesses damaged or destroyed and 125 homes also damaged or destroyed in Newton County.
In Lauderdale County, there were 25 homes severely damaged and several destroyed.
Through the kindness of Red Cross donors and contributors, we are able to help these families to rebuild there lives. In our six-county-area, we have helped more than 40 families due to single family fires. So as you can see, the disaster services is a daily program and we need your support, not only in times of natural disasters, but also in the event of man-made disasters.
The Meridian Star: Besides disaster relief, what is the Key Chapter involved with?
Barry: Our tentacles stretch so far and our outreach program stretches even further. Our services are unlimited.
We are directly involved with the military. We are the front line for the military and their families. The American Red Cross provides reporting and communication services through a network which links members of the military any place in the world with their loved ones back home.
We also administer a utility assistance program through Emergency Food and Shelter and the Mississippi Power Company. We have a tremendous health and safety program which teaches CPR, first aid, CPR, pet care, babysitting, and HIV and Aids awareness and prevention. We teach disaster classes and all disaster services are free.
On a last note, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the citizens of Lauderdale and Newton County for their support during this recent disaster.
The in-kind donations, the monetary donations, and your time were so helpful to this operation. The meaningful friendships and the working relationships I have made will always be treasured and remembered.
Thank you for helping me to help others through your local Key Chapter of the American Red Cross.