Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Day Visiting a Disaster Area

by Scott Toncray, volunteer for the Red Cross, Tennessee Region Volunteer

Lincoln County Tornado victims begin to recover from the April 28 storms.

As you drive up to any area affected by a natural disaster, the scene is surreal. In the days following the April 28, 2014 tornadoes in Lincoln County, Tenn., I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the devastation these storms caused. As we drove to the area affected, you first notice the smell of people burning debris caused by the storm. You can hear chainsaws, front-end loaders and birds singing in the background. This is spring and all the trees are now green except in the area where hundred-year-old trees have been uprooted, many are split in half and none of the leaves remain on those still standing. Debris, including pieces of tin roofs, are twisted around the branches. But for the survivors – they continue to smile and have a spirit to rebuild or repair the damage to their homes, thankful that they survived the storm.

Many times – television and still photos capture only the foundation remaining and a single American flag flying in the breeze. But it is heartbreaking to drive through the neighborhoods and see people cleaning up the debris the storm left in its path. Along with emergency vehicles and clean up crews are American Red Cross volunteers along with churches and other community organizations dropping off truckloads of water, food, snacks, shovels, rakes, brooms and mops so the victims can begin to pick up the pieces and rebuild what was destroyed or damaged. Signs have been painted with the words, “Lincoln County Proud.” Today, a week after the cleanup began, media crews have left and moved on to other stories of the day but we should remember those who are still rebuilding, as the process will continue for months.

What can I do?

Many people see the images broadcast in media outlets and want to pack up their cars and head to help but it is important to receive training so that rather than intruding on the victims who are recovering both physically and emotionally that you are trained to assist them. The Red Cross offers courses that you can take from your computer as well as in classroom environments so when the next disaster strikes you can begin to help immediately. If time doesn’t allow – you can always make a financial contribution that pays for the recovery supplies mentioned above.

HOW TO HELP:  Every year, the Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters ranging from a home fire involving one family to larger disasters like hurricanes and wildfires that impact entire communities. If someone would like to help, they can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


  1. I respectivley disagree with the last part of this article. I don't think a person needs to take a class on how to volunteer their time. Every person that I have talked to while out volunteering have been very appreciative, and asked me to please come back. I don't feel I am intruding...A person does not need a class to learn compassion, and a helping hand. Thank you for what you do..but please do not discourage volunteering.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      While you certainly don’t need to take a class to learn how to be compassionate or to lend a helping hand, the Red Cross actually does extensive casework with each client to help address their immediate emergency needs such as food, shelter and emotional support. Other government and community organizations take the lead with search and rescue efforts as well as with actual clean-up and removal of storm debris.

      We train each volunteer and give them the tools and resources to be able to turn that compassion into action to make a difference. There are also many behind the scenes roles during a disaster that do require specialized training. All Red Cross volunteer courses are free and are designed to ensure that all volunteers can respond quickly and effectively after a disaster. We appreciate your thoughts and if you would like to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please visit us on http://redcross.org/tn/nashville/volunteer.