American Red Cross looks to set up more local disaster teams

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – This time last year, a tornado ravaged the town of Vilonia, and flooding displaced hundreds in Northeast Arkansas. The American Red Cross dispatched numerous volunteers to these disaster areas, and now the organization is trying to further expand that network of support before the next incident strikes.

The Northeast Arkansas chapter has specifically identified several counties without local disaster response teams. It has decided to host several informational sessions to recruit volunteers familiar with their communities, who are willing to lend a hand when their neighbors need it most.

"During a disaster, there's always that comfort point in having people that are your neighbors that are already there in the community to help and to have that local flavor," Jody Carter said.

Carter is the disaster zone manager of Northeast Arkansas. In the coming weeks, he has organized several disaster response team meetings. He has targeted counties with few trained Red Cross volunteers, including Mississippi, Independence, Randolph, Lawrence, Craighead, Poinsett and Jackson Counties.

"We need folks that are willing to respond to disasters," Carter said. "We need folks that want to stay and maybe do accounting work or people who can do logistics and work in a warehouse or drive our emergency response vehicles or service our emergency response vehicles."

The spectrum of help is limitless, Carter says, and no one understands how crucial that assistance is better than the victims of the Pocahontas flooding last year.

"You know, after 2008, where (the water) got to, there's no way it's going to come up that much higher to get into the houses," Geary Barr said. "We were wrong."

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of a devastating flood that covered Barr's neighborhood in Pocahontas.

"The house was pretty much destroyed," Barr explained, "just had to go in and tear it down to the two-by-fours and start over."

Crews took six months to renovate his home after waters rose past the windowsill in his living room and left extensive damage inside. The Red Cross sent volunteers into the area last year and assisted people displaced by the floodwaters, like Barr and his neighbors.

"They'd come through the neighborhood every once in a while, see what you needed, bring out supplies for you," Barr said. "It was a lot of help – just one more thing you didn't have to deal with, and, at that time, you had plenty to deal with."

Despite the incredibly helpful volunteers that came from other communities last year, Barr said it would be easier to deal with people he knows if the water rises again.

"Glad it's over with, hope it doesn't happen again."

To find out when the Red Cross will host informational meetings about the disaster response teams locally, visit the Arkansas Red Cross here.

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