PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

May 21, 2013

SE Texans can help with tornado relief

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — While rescue crews sift through miles of rubble left by Monday’s monstrous tornado in search of survivors, local organizations are preparing to send both volunteers and supplies to assist the crippled area.

The massive E5 tornado has been determined to have winds in excess of 200 mph while on the ground in Moore, Okla., the National Weather Service reported Tuesday.

Thus thus the twister has claimed 24 lives, including nine children, and left hundreds injured.

As many as 20,000 families are displaced from their homes, and the city has lost its infrastructure.

“It is devastating. It is right up there with Sandy and Katrina. It is a war zone,” Sharon Taylor, executive director of the Orange County and Beaumont American Red Cross chapters, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The charitable organization is on standby, preparing to make the trip to Oklahoma.

Nearly as soon as the tornado touched down with a vengeance not seen since the same Oklahoma area was hit by a twister in 1999, the local Red Cross group began rounding up volunteers with previous Red Cross training.

“We are e-mailing and phone calling to Beaumont and Orange, getting all volunteers to see who can deploy,” Taylor said.

Once a team is assembled, the Red Cross volunteers will travel to Okla., where they assist with sheltering and feeding those affected by the twister.

Typically, teams stay from one to three weeks at disaster sites.

Taylor said 20 volunteers from the local Red Cross were recently deployed to the East Coast, where Hurricane Sandy left a mammoth swath of destruction along the Eastern Seaboard.

Most recently, a two-person team consisting of a logistic manager and a client caseworker were deployed to West, Texas, where an explosion at a fertilizer company leveled blocks, claimed lives, and left many homeless.

In addition to assembling a team of volunteers, the Beaumont Red Cross chapter has readied its emergency response vehicle.

The Red Cross is also asking for  monetary donations, which can be given on the organization’s Web site at www.redcross.org. Those wishing to make a donation can type in their zip code and the Web site will go to the Beaumont, or Orange County Red Cross site.

“We are asking for monetary donations because that is what helps the most,” Taylor said.

There is also an on-line application for volunteers, who would like to begin training for future disasters. Both Beaumont and Orange Red Cross chapters will offer training as early as June.

Nurses or mental health professionals  are encouraged to register as volunteers. Because the need is so immediate, those trained professionals likely can be deployed without undergoing Red Cross training, Taylor said.

In addition to the Red Cross, Valrico, a fuel transportation company with an office in Nederland, is taking donations of non-perishable food items, water, paper goods and clothes, to fill an 18-wheeler bound for Oklahoma Thursday.

In the aftermath of disasters, the company maintains generators and delivers fuel to the affected areas.

Valrico tankers were expected to arrive in Oklahoma Tuesday night with loads of fuel.

“We recently went to Sandy, and have been in every hurricane from Florida to Texas since 2004,” Kathy Catalano, director of Corporate Compliance, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.”

Though the company has sent responded to many disasters, and is providing fuel to the  First Response Team of America in Oklahoma, this is the first time the company is sending a tractor-trailer full of supplies, Catalano said.

The company will take donations at its Nederland office, 3108  Nederland Ave., from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: @SKooncePANews