Barbara Wood's Dispatches from the Home Front: Through tornado, floods and hurricaneEditor's note: This column was written in the period after Hurricane Irene struck the East Coast.
Anyone who sees the news knows that this year has had more than its share of disasters. I know it from experience.
Since April, I have been deployed four times as a Red Cross volunteer, helping those affected by disasters. Between disaster assignments, and a couple of family trips, six weeks is the longest period I spent at home since March.
The good news is that even the dog now believes I will come home again.
Between assignments I have helped the local Red Cross in what they do here every week — assisting residents displaced by home or apartment fires.
My assignments have not been to the areas that made national news headlines. But to anyone affected by a disaster, size is not important.
My first Red Cross mission was to Mississippi, after tornadoes hit in mid-April. I went out to meet with, and offer Red Cross help to, people whose homes had been ripped apart.
In Mississippi I learned that their Mexican restaurants, even if raved about by locals, do not live up to California standards. Also, that people affected by a disaster can start crying when a Red Cross worker tells them they came all the way from California and offers a hug.
I was told that when a tornado draws near, it sounds like a train, and that huddling in a closet or bath tub can save you if you have nowhere else to go.
I was there for a week, then home for 10 more days, before being sent to Tennessee, where the Mississippi River was flooding. I stayed there for 18 days, including some time representing the Red Cross in a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center.
There I met a cheerful man who tried, successfully, to get on the local news by fishing off his deck and placing a recliner on the roof of his mobile home as the waters rose. He could still laugh about it after his home had been under water for two weeks.
In Memphis, I had to translate my questions about the disaster into Spanish, but I did find a good Mexican restaurant.
I also got to visit Elvis Presley's home at Graceland during one of the two days off I had during my four deployments. They let the Red Cross in at no cost.
I got as close as I hope to ever get to a tornado in Memphis one evening. As the warning sirens blared, I chatted with my husband online, hunkered back in a corner of the lobby away from the windows. He responded by sending me a link to before and after photos of Joplin, Missouri, but I promise that I had been taking it seriously, even before the photos. I'd seen homes hit by a tornado.
The tornado passed by a few miles away from us; but, oh my, did we have impressive rain.
I was home for five days before we drove to Oregon for my nephew's graduation, and then for nearly a week before I went to Montana, where the state had been flooding for close to a month.
I spent 12 days there; most of it working on the Crow Indian reservation assessing damage done by the flood waters. I leaned that no one has street addresses on the reservation, that the Crow Indians were on George Custer's side in the Battle of Little Big Horn, and that Crow custom does not allow a husband to speak directly to his mother-in-law, which probably comes in handy at times.
I then had a week at home before going camping, and then six whole weeks before I was asked to fly into New York City before Hurricane Irene hit.
I am writing this from a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in White Plains New York, where some of those whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Irene and the storms that came later have come for help. Before starting here I traveled over much of the state of New York, documenting the damage the storms had caused to homes here.
And soon, I will be home again, where I hope to stay for a very long time.
Cross your fingers and hope we have no more disasters. And in the meantime, do what the Red Cross urges — make a plan, build a kit and get trained. Disasters do happen.
• Visit siliconvalley-redcross.org to learn how to prepare.
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer, gardener, and Red Cross volunteer from Woodside.