By SHERRY LANTZ
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sherry Lantz and Cindy Peterson are retired Wawasee Community School Corp. teachers and Syracuse residents who have been volunteering for about the past six months with the Kosciusko County Chapter of the American Red Cross as disaster relief workers. This account arrived Tuesday, Sept. 4, from their efforts during Hurricane Isaac.)
Cindy Peterson and I were called Thursday morning to work during Hurricane Isaac and at 3:30 a.m. Friday we were on the way to the airport in Fort Wayne. Our assignment was mass care and sheltering.
We arrived at Red Cross Headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Friday afternoon, attended meetings and were assigned to teams. Cindy and I, along with Bob Harkness, Winona Lake, also from Kosciusko County Red Cross Chapter, were fortunate to be able to stay together as teams were formed. We were then sent to a Comfort Inn for the night.
The next couple of days there were more meetings and time spent watching the Weather Channel – waiting to see where Hurricane Isaac was headed. Finally, our team supervisor and our five-member team was dispatched in two cars to a shelter in Hattiesburg, Miss., a few miles east of the Louisiana state line.
From this point on we had no television and were fairly clueless about what was going on around us. I had forgotten to take my Garmin, but thankfully Cindy had an iPhone so while I drove, she navigated. Her phone was most often our only source of information about everything.
From Tampa we drove into the bands of wind and driving rain surrounding Isaac. After six hours we stopped in Marianna, Fla., for the night, having decided we were too tired to drive on in the dangerous weather. Our two team members in the other car made it to Pensacola, Fla., and we all went on to Hattiesburg the next day.
The drive was the worst throughout the Mobile, Ala., area and westward where roads were flooded and closing within a couple hours of our getting through. At one point waves were actually coming up and over the four lane highway we were traveling! We encountered a flooded tunnel, flooded roads and highways and detours where roads were closed or impassable.
The emergency radio said there were two tornados within five miles of us but we never saw them. We were just lucky to be able to see the road 50 feet ahead of us! Other than the convoys of electric company bucket trucks, we were almost alone on the highways. It was a very eerie feeling.
We regrouped at the Red Cross Headquarters in Hattiesburg around noon and were eventually sent to a “not too pleasant” staff shelter by a rising stream. After spending a short, hot, crowded, noisy and wet night there and another trip to headquarters, we were sent to organize and staff a shelter in the gym of a Pentecostal church. That’s where our work really began.
We set up cots, posted shelter rules, registered refugees-residents, issued blankets, staffed information tables, fed residents, played with children, cleaned bathrooms, dining area, residents’ living area and trash constantly. The six of us worked in shifts to allow each of us to get a little sleep.
We registered over 100 people but, the most we had overnight was 57. People came and went for various reasons so it was hard to keep track of numbers for meals and beds. Eventually another team arrived to help us through the last few days and stayed to help us close down last Sunday morning.
We went back to headquarters around noon to “out process,” which included a frantic few hours spent trying to turn in rental cars, get forms to various departments, find and dispense necessary information, obtain transportation to an airport and arrange for a flight home. Cindy, Bob and I were really lucky! We were in Jackson, Miss., and on a plane at 4:30 p.m. headed for home!
Our friend, Suzie Yeager, also from Syracuse and a retired teacher, is a Red Cross volunteer out of Elkhart County Chapter and she deployed a few days after we did. She went straight to Hattiesburg and has been doing mass care shelter work there. We phoned and texted, but never had time to go see her and she is still there. I think she comes home next Monday.