Delaware among leaders in hurricane aid
Published: Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2009 04:07
This hurricane season, Delaware has been a leader in disaster relief, sending aid to southeastern states threatened by the most recent hurricanes, including Gustav, Hanna and Ike.
Tech. Sgt. Ben Matwey, public affairs specialist for the Delaware Air National Guard, said Delaware was one of the first four states to respond to Hurricane Gustav by sending disaster relief to the Gulf Coast. More than 60 Delaware National Guard members have responded to Gustav, which hit Louisiana on Sept. 1. He said as of last week, 150 troops were also on standby storms Hanna and Ike.
"We sent 36 people down there who are medical specialists to help evacuate patients who are elderly, people who can't walk, who are sick and children," he said. "We sent people like medical technicians and flight nurses."
In addition, Matwey said the Delaware Air and Army National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters with a team of communication and search and rescue specialists, as well as a Joint Enabling Team. The JET, made up of 21 additional communication specialists and members of the media, flew down to Camp Beauregard, La., 100 miles northwest of New Orleans. The JET is expected to remain on the Gulf Coast until Sept. 15.
He said the Delaware National Guard successfully evacuated 285 hospital patients from potentially dangerous areas in Louisiana and Texas. Most patients were moved to larger hospitals in Texas, once used for Hurricane Katrina victims.
Daniel Valle, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula, said the Delmarva Red Cross deployed more than 40 trained disaster volunteers, nurses and mental health professionals to Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The disaster workers are doing mostly mass-care work, which involves providing food and shelter for evacuees, Valle said.
Sarah Gilmour, manager of volunteer services at the Delmarva Red Cross, said there are 8,000 Red Cross workers from around the country stationed along the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross has opened 572 shelters and served more than 440,000 meals, she said.
"We really didn't know what to expect because you never know what direction the storm is going to go in," Gilmour said. "But we were definitely prepared. The Red Cross believes in being prepared as much as we can."
Valle said the Red Cross established shelters in 12 southeastern states and residents will remain there indefinitely.
"It's going to take quite a bit of time before those people will actually get back," he said. "It's a very big job - there's a fair number of unanswered questions. There were 800,000 households in the affected area when the storm hit. We need to continue to provide adequate support and sheltering and feeding for all of these people."
Valle said Wilmington is home to a call center, where victims in threatened areas can call for information about where to get help. The center received hundreds of calls from Gulf State residents this week.
Senior Nikhil Paul, former president of the university's American Red Cross club, said the call center is one of 30 call centers throughout the nation.
"These call centers are manned by volunteers who say, 'We'll get help down your way' or, 'We'll get aid' or, 'Here's the nearest motel,' " he said.
Paul said the club has a fundraiser every month in order to prepare for future disasters of this nature. Their annual "Top Model" fundraiser will be held in October.
In preparation for Hurricane Gustav, Delaware's National Guard sent personnel and supplies southeast before the storm hit, rather than in the wake of the aftermath. They also set up safety facilities and evacuated patients to prevent catastrophe.
"You never want be caught on your heels when you have an incident that can harm people," Matwey said. "In some ways we were caught on our heels with Hurricane Katrina. There wasn't good planning."
Paul said he believes since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 the Red Cross is better trained and prepared to handle situations involving natural disasters.
"Now we have the resources and we have much more experience in this case as opposed to last time," he said. "We're definitely much more prepared and we have protocols in place to handle situations like this."
Paul said he believes it is also important for states to help other states in times of need.
"States that are not affected have the resources, have the manpower and the financial stability to help the state that is affected," he said. "Once one part is affected, every other part is at gear to help that one part."