LIHUE — Kauai American Red Cross volunteers traveled thousands of miles to aid victims affected by Hurricane Irma’s devastation.
It was the people they met they remember most.
“There was a family of three from Liberty County, Georgia, with a son who had special needs,” said Padraic Gallagher, director of disaster services for ARC Kauai. “They wanted to get home as soon as possible, but they weren’t allowed to return due to flooding.”
The problem they ran into was the lack of updates regarding the situation, because they had no access to internet or television.
“They just couldn’t believe that we opened up the shelter and gave food and blankets and cots and everything,” Gallagher said. “They were worried about what would happen in the event of a disaster. Now they have a little bit of peace of mind knowing what to expect next time.”
American Red Cross volunteers helped those affected in the southeastern states, where the record-breaking storm caused more than 50 deaths, while destroying homes and businesses.
Gallagher volunteered his help, along with three other ARC members who traveled from the Garden Island: Anna Myers and Coleen and Brian Kasperek.
Gallagher flew out Sept. 7 to one of the processing areas in Raleigh, North Carolina, but when he arrived the storm took a turn. They decided he could better help with disaster relief by serving as a shelter manager in Macon, Georgia.
The two shelter buildings were a high school and middle school next to each other that housed more than 300 people impacted by the storm.
“Most of the work we were doing was sheltering evacuees from Florida and from southern areas of Georgia,” Gallagher said. “They bused people up there who didn’t have means or a way to get out of flood-prone areas.”
Residents from Florida to North Carolina lost electricity for several days, some for more than a week.
“After the storm passed, we sheltered people for a few days there until each county gave the all-clear, so we’d know they were ready to go back home,” he said. “There were still sections of the interstate that were blocked off, and a lot downed trees.”
Most of the storm damage was caused by flooding, and many couldn’t get back to homes in low-lying areas of southern Georgia with many major roads closed, Gallagher said.
“Once the storm passed, we helped people with supplies they may need,” he said. “We had big distribution centers and were handing out tarps and water, some food, batteries and things like that.”
Many businesses in the area, including grocery stores and markets, had to shut down due to lack of electricity and flood damage.
“The big thing, especially in Florida, was feeding,” Gallagher said. “So we would send our own emergency response vehicles loaded up with food and feed people that needed help.”
Gallagher worked for nearly two weeks with 16 other Red Cross volunteers from across the country on his team, some with no shelter experience.
“It was just an unbelievable experience,” Gallagher said. “Over a couple of days, we probably got a couple hours of sleep. You just didn’t care. You did what had to be done.”