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Disaster devastation: A look at 2018 and how we need to help
by Amber Savage
Executive Director American Red Cross Utah Chapter
Nov 01, 2018 | 253 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print


We are tired. As a nation, as a response organization, as volunteers, employees, donors, and especially those impacted – we are exhausted. Mother nature has not let up, and we’re pressing forward with eyes pried open and bodies propped up to continue delivering a mission of relief and hope that burns deeper than the exhaustion ever does.

Consider just how devastating the latter part of 2018 has been:

July – the Dollar Ridge Fire in Utah takes over 70 homes and scorches almost 70,000 acres. Meanwhile, a series of more than 20 tornadoes all touch down on the same day in Iowa, wreaking havoc across three separate communities. Additionally, another year of historic wildfires in California begins, including the Carr Fire, which burned more than 225,000 acres, destroyed over 1,500 structures and killed eight people, including three firefighters.

August – Hurricane Lane pummels Hawaii, dropping more than 50 inches of rain on the Big Island, coming just months after the destructive Kiluea Volcano began its slow eruption process, destroying hundreds of homes. The California wildfires raged on, coming in the form of the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning just under 500,000 acres, destroying 280 structures and resulting in the death of one of Utah’s own beloved firefighters, Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett.

September – Hurricane Florence slammed ashore in North Carolina, dropping more than 35 inches of rain and causing catastrophic flooding that would ultimately claim 53 lives. Throughout the response, Red Cross and other organizations provided 114,700 overnight stays (Red Cross provided 92 percent of those) and served more than 921,000 meals and snacks.

Volunteer health and mental health workers provided some 29,100 contacts to support and care for evacuees, and more than 138,200 relief items were distributed to those in need. Meanwhile, the stunning Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires in Utah forced the evacuation of 6,000 of our own local friends and neighbors from southern Utah County and would eventually burn more than 120,000 acres.

October – Hurricane Michael surprised the nation as it barreled ashore the Florida panhandle, also claiming 54 lives and displacing tens of thousands, many of whom were unable or not choosing to return. As of today, just under 40,000 shelter stays and 990,000 meals and snacks have been provided.

Then there was Hurricane Walaka, which went largely unnoticed but caused the remote East Island to vanish underwater, having serious implications for nesting sea turtles. And in case you didn’t know, hurricane season isn’t over until Nov. 30.

Through it all, the Red Cross has been there every time, along with first responders, community members, and neighbors eager to help. The media has shown parts of these disasters when the news is hot and the visuals are dramatic, but the disaster fatigue is taking its toll on the nation. Many communities and the efforts built to support them are left under-supported, because once the news is out of sight, it’s out of mind.

Right now, our claim is strong and our request is direct – people need help and the Red Cross is committed to providing it. We don’t withhold services from those in need after a disaster, and we do all we can to raise the funds to pay for it, and if we don’t, we go into the red and hope to make it up over years ahead. Right now, we haven’t raised enough to pay for what 2018 has brought us. We work together as a country to support those in need, and even us here in Utah are responsible for helping to fill the need.

Though the final numbers are yet to be calculated, early estimates indicate that our region will need to contribute over $1 million to help cover the costs of response. So from me – the local Red Cross director who has seen the front lines of disaster too many times, having made the financial decisions in the field, and having stood with those people who have lost their homes and/or loved ones – I’m asking for your help. Anything will help – even the $10 donation if that’s what you’re able to give. If you question where your money is going or how we spend it, call our office or email me and I’ll be open and frank with you. I doubt you’ve heard a plea as genuine and open as this, and I’m hoping you follow the nudge to do something about it.

Ours is a responsibility to strengthen the feeble knees and lift the hands that hang down. Carrying out that basic human responsibility will look different for everyone, but that doesn’t change the necessity. Regardless of criticism, the Red Cross has to keep moving forward, and we will.

A nation without the Red Cross looks like a nation with 40 percent less blood supply, no coordinated sheltering efforts, no financial assistance to the tens of thousands of house fires that happen each year, and so much more. We applaud the work of all humanitarian organizations and with them we recognize the need for each of us to continue refining and improving our methods of response. The Red Cross is not perfect – I’ll be the first to admit it. But our mission is perfect – our goal is to alleviate human suffering, and we are committed to doing that as best we can.

At this time, we urge all to consider how they can reach out a little farther and give to those in need. And since the need is great, may we each find the cause, the means, the way, and the willingness to do something about it.

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