Red Cross responder Sue Buelow is back from New Jersey where she helped with Superstorm Sandy disaster relief efforts. Below, Sue looks back.
The very beginning was a lot of trying to figure out the response system and getting used to hurry up and wait. But soon after arriving I was assigned to supervising special field teams doing “seek and serve” emotional support and traveling to Moonachie, Newark, Jersey City, Toms River and nearby damaged communities.
I learned a few things along the way: 1) speed limit signs are a suggestion, 2) many cities are not on a map, 3) there are few places that allow left turns, 4) be thankful for clean clothes; and 5) they love Minnesotan accents there!
The work was hard emotionally and physically. My first partner had to return home to California for health reasons. Then, for the next 12 days I had the pleasure of partnering with Lizzie Kampf, a new “just-in-time” disaster mental health responder who was also from the Twin Cities. It felt like we’d known each other a lifetime. I was sad to see Lizzie leave before I finished my final week there. I didn’t know what I’d do without her driving the truck — she took on the persona of a New York cab driver quite naturally.
Lizzie and I went to New Jersey’s upper Barrier Island as the residents returned to see their homes, or absence of, for the first time. The devastation to the townships there was beyond words. The water and sand was 4-5 feet deep and the waves were up to 12 feet high. The stories of the emergency medical services (EMS) workers and residents who rode out the storm there were frightening. We bonded with these communities and it was not unusual to hear “Hey, Minnesota….” My last contact with one of the EMS workers that had been struggling was “Minnesota, I got your back.”
Being there when the residents saw their condemned or empty lot of debris was indescribable as they collapsed into my arms, sobbing and needing a “Minnesota hug.” We helped look for mementos in the debris, from small things to stones of a child’s hand and foot prints. We were there for those in shock who couldn’t think to pack up some clothes. Listening to them tell their stories and showing us their homes or pictures was moving.
I certainly have received a great gift from the same people: I believe I have helped them. I am blessed to have had a small part of their lives and in their recovery from this disaster. I will always remember my time spent there.
Sue returned home a few days ago. She is among more than 100 Red Cross disaster relief workers (mostly volunteers) from Minnesota who have responded to Sandy.