Disasters put Red Cross to the test

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s been an unprecedented year for natural disasters in the U.S.

From a series of major hurricanes that caused massive damage in places like Texas and Puerto Rico to wildfires in parts of California, experts say the recovery will be long and expensive.

It’s no surprise to Jason Keeling, executive director of the Northeast W.Va. Chapter of the American Red Cross.

He said on Panhandle Live Wednesday the organization is seeing the scale of these disasters in their response numbers.

“We’ve actually provided more food than the last four years combined in just this year, so it demonstrates the magnitude.”

He said they’ve also provided almost 1.4 million overnight stays so far in 2017, exceeding the past five years combined.

Keeling said they are able to continue their work thanks to financial contributions from the public and volunteers.

He said 91 percent of the 16,000 people deployed to respond to disasters this year have been volunteers.

Those teams are often assembled locally by Red Cross staff before being deployed.

That was the case for Eastern Panhandle Disaster Program Manager Clair Brendle, who led a JUMP Team to Puerto Rico.

Brendle said she and three volunteers had to sign off that they knew what they were getting into.

“No water. No power. Rough sleeping conditions, but also that we were at risk for diseases.”

Brendle said none of the volunteers showed any hesitation and each had experience that enabled them to immediately begin to address the needs of those affected by the storms.

“Every single one of them was asked to go because they had experience that would be applicable and every single one of them was absolutely willing to go.”

The Red Cross has had a significant impact already, but Keeling said it is far from over for those affected by disasters across the country.

He said the need for financial contributions and volunteers will continue and urged the public to keep the Red Cross in mind when giving at the end of the year.

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