Release: Polk Red Cross drivers deploy to Mississippi for Gustav

Polk Red Cross drivers deploy to Mississippi for Gustav

Local volunteer Emergency Response Vehicle drivers finish first week of response to Tropical Storm Fay

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 – Two Polk County Red Cross volunteers have finished their first week assisting with recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Fay. Now on Interstate 10, they are driving an Emergency Response Vehicle en route to Hattiesburg, Miss., to await possible arrival of Tropical Storm Gustav.

For Russell Miller, it’s a bit like a homecoming. He was in the Biloxi and Gulf Port area three years ago, after Hurricane Katrina.

Red Cross ERV driver Russ Miller steps out of a nationally-maintained Emergency Response Vehicle stationed at the Polk County Chapter in Florida. Right now, he and fellow Polk County resident Ken Shelton are driving a different national ERV to Hattiesburg, Miss., to wait and respond if Tropical Storm Gustav hits the northern Gulf Coast.

Red Cross ERV driver Russ Miller steps out of a nationally-maintained Emergency Response Vehicle stationed at the Polk County Chapter in Florida. Right now, he and fellow Polk County resident Ken Shelton are driving a different national ERV to Hattiesburg, Miss., to wait and respond if Tropical Storm Gustav hits the northern Gulf Coast.

“It was heart-wrenching then,” he said. Just talking about stories of last words between loved ones, lost in a flood, “still brings tears to my eyes.”

While Miller looks forward to finding out how people are doing in southern Mississippi now, he said Tropical Storm Fay, despite the damage and losses, was easier on the heart because few people died.

He and fellow ERV driver Ken Shelton left Polk County on Friday, Aug. 22, picked up a new ERV from the manufacturer in Orlando, and spent a week bringing relief to people in Ft. Pierce. They then went on to Tallahassee, in Leon County.

ERV drivers bring refreshment (water, snacks, and meals), clean-up supplies (Clorox, gloves, tarps, yard tools, garbage bags), and encouragement to people they meet. What they take with them is hugs of thanks from the residents and extra information for the Red Cross on how many people are affected and where they are.

One remote flooded area in Leon County had 25 families – about 100 people. Everyone was fine, but many were stranded and needed supplies, especially baby formula. Miller and Shelton made sure to get formula and diapers out to the families right away.

In Tallahassee, they went street by street, until police, postal workers, and residents provided them information, and helped direct them to their neighbors who were most in need. “That was pretty cool,” Miller said.

Shelton, who used to drive trucks for a living, said it was like trucking again. Each ERV has a short-wave radio that keeps all the drivers in contact with 15-20 other Emergency Response Vehicles at a time. The drivers operating out of a specific chapter on any given disaster get to be really close. It’s camaraderie among people who share a common goal: Helping people.

“When (people) give a hug and say thanks,” Miller said, “That’s all the thanks I need.”

For more information about the American Red Cross response to Tropical Storm Gustav, visit the online newsroom at https://hurricanegustav.wordpress.com/. For information on how to prepare for a tropical storm or hurricane, please visit www.redcross.org. En Español: www.cruzrojaamericana.org.

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