Local American Red Cross volunteers to help in Louisiana

VIDEO: Local American Red Cross volunteers to help in Louisiana

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - American Red Cross volunteers from across South Carolina will journey to Louisiana to assist families dealing with severe flooding.

Palmetto SC Regional Communications Officer Jennifer Heisler said 40 volunteers from South Carolina, including Louise Welch Williams, the regional CEO, are either in Louisiana already or heading there in the very near future.

Ten volunteers from the Lowcountry make up that 40.

"Here in South Carolina we have experienced devastating flooding, and many of us know someone who was affected by the floods last October," said Louise Welch Williams, regional chief executive officer for the Palmetto SC Region of the American Red Cross. "When we were asked to help with this massive relief effort in Louisiana, our volunteers and staff immediately stepped up to do whatever is needed, both now and in the weeks ahead, helping people in Louisiana pick up the pieces.

Ann Baughman is one of the many volunteers heading to Baton Rouge. She's been a volunteer for 53 years, and has seen numerous disasters throughout her life. Having seen the images throughout Louisiana, she said now is the time to act.

"I've been sort of putting it off," Baughman said. "I've been watching it on television and have seen it become worse and worse. People are being rescued from cars, people were dying and I thought well this is the chance. If I'm going to go, I better go now."

So far, the historic flooding in the Baton Rouge area of the state has claimed the lives of six people.

Louisiana has witnessed three major weather events so far this year. This one, however, will not only surpass those, but it will shatter records, reports say.

"When you hear that others are suffering the same thing [we did in October] our volunteers step up and they want to help," Heisler said.

According to Heisler, 1,700 American Red Cross volunteers from across the country came to South Carolina to help with the needs of locals, and now that response is being returned.

"It really hits home for all of us here in South Carolina, being that we went through this ourselves," Heisler said. "Many of our volunteers that assisted families throughout South Carolina during the floods last year, were affected themselves, but they were still giving and willing to help."

"I had water under my house in Dorchester County, and I saw then what was happening," Baughman said. "This is much worse."

The situation in Louisiana is extremely chaotic and gaining access to many areas is difficult due to flooding and numerous road closures. In addition, power and phone outages are complicating relief efforts. Local officials have reported making more than 20,000 water rescues, and are estimating that 10,000 homes have been damaged. Many areas are still inaccessible.

Additionally, the American Red Cross estimates there are roughly 10,000 people in shelters set up for families who no longer have a place to stay at this point.

"It's the largest sheltering event in Louisiana since Hurricane Isaac," Heisler said. "So at this point one of our main needs is caring for all of these people. We want to make sure we have shelter workers on the ground who can open and operate the shelters."

Volunteers say the most helpful resource right now for those in Louisiana are monetary donations.

"Then they can purchase in the local community for what's needed, rather than transporting from here," Baughman said. "Plus it gets the local community back up on its feet."

Baughman will catch a flight to Baton Rouge early Tuesday morning. She's expected to land before noon, where she will then get straight to work at some of the shelters.

Heisler adds more volunteers are likely to travel to Louisiana throughout the week.

How you can get involved

Saturday, August 20, the American Red Cross will hold a one-day Disaster Responder Bootcamp, where volunteers will learn the essentials of responding to a disaster. In just eight hours, participants will become qualified to feed and shelter their friends and neighbors. In addition to classroom instruction, the boot camp features interactive case studies, with volunteers learning how to help individuals, families and communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

The training will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the North Charleston location (2424 City Hall Lane, North Charleston, SC 2940).

"We are able to quickly respond to help families when a disaster strikes because of the power of our everyday heroes—our volunteers." said Louise Welch Williams, regional CEO for the American Red Cross in South Carolina. "During the South Carolina Floods our volunteers opened more than 30 shelters, providing families evacuated form the rising floodwaters with a safe, dry place to stay and hot meals."

After completing the Disaster Responder Bootcamp, participants will be qualified to assist with a local disaster. Plus, this is the first step to becoming eligible to deploy to large disasters across the country. In the past year, Lowcountry volunteers traveled to West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, California, and Canada to help families affected by floods, wildfires, and tornados.

Due to the limited number of spots available for the Disaster Responder Bootcamp, pre-registration is required. Contact Lisa Wills at 843-480-4225 or lisa.wills@redcross.org with questions and to register.

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