Florida Residents Work to Recover From Three Hurricanes
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RAY SUAREZ: First it was Hurricane Charley striking the west coast of the state, then Frances hitting the east side, and now Ivan has left its mark on the panhandle. For a closer look at how the state and the communities are coping with the aftermath of Ivan and the previous storms, I’m joined from Pensacola by Peter Teahan, a spokesman for the American Red Cross who’s been working in the state during all three hurricanes and Marty Donovan, a Pensacola realtor and city councilman.
Peter Teahan, let’s start with you. As someone who’s been coordinating the relief through all these storms, maybe you can give us a sense of the scale now in Florida. What is the Red Cross up to across the state?
PETER TEAHEN: Well, the Red Cross has been actively involved in the response, starting from our local chapters pro siding the initial shelters to now having national staff and resources brought in from all over the United States, Canada, and our U.S. territories.
We’ve had more than 16,000 relief volunteers in Florida in response to the hurricanes starting with Hurricane Charley and Frances and now Ivan. The Red Cross has expended nearly… is estimated to expend nearly $70 million in relief operation for Charley and Frances and that number will grow significantly as we look at response to Ivan, but the key thing is that we’re meeting emergency needs of food, shelter and clothing for the families in Florida affected by these disasters as well as states above us as these hurricanes move north.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you have a good ballpark estimate on how many people need your services a day right now?
PETER TEAHEN: Well, right now we know we have over 30,000 in our shelter just in the… in response to Hurricane Ivan.
Thousands of more families all over the peninsula in Florida and now in the panhandle will seek assistance from the Red Cross for food, shelter, and clothing and we will meet their needs and we’ll be cooperating with FEMA and other nonprofit organizations like ourselves to make sure that their needs are met and that they are put on a road towards recovery from these disasters. The exact number we don’t know, the number is still growing.
RAY SUAREZ: Has the cumulative impact of the storms, the fact that they’ve followed each other in close succession, made your work and the work of other responders harder?
PETER TEAHEN: Absolutely. We have an exhausted staff of 16 volunteers. They’re tired but they have a dedicated spirit to helping Americans in time of need and they keep coming back.
We have volunteers en route right now to the panhandle from all over the United States as those numbers continue to grow. We have food trucks en route to Pensacola.
They’ll arrive this afternoon, ten emergency response vehicles with ready-to-eat meals so the family will have something to eat in Pensacola.
RAY SUAREZ: Marty Donovan, let’s turn to you now. Your city manager there in Pensacola. Tom Bonnfield, said today Pensacola may never be the same. How are your neighbors holding up? Tell us what their lives have been like.
MARTY DONOVAN: Well, Ray, it’s certainly been a devastating storm. I think Pensacola will be the same, though. I think we will come back and will be better than ever. I’ve lived here since I was six years old and have been through probably a dozen hurricanes.
This is a devastating hurricane, though. It’s probably the worst hurricane to hit Pensacola since the hurricane of 1912. But the neighbors are out in the streets, they’re using their chain saws, they’re using their rakes, they’re helping each other, they’re clearing the roads.
And it’s been less than 48 hours since the hurricane hit, but I feel like we made dramatic progress in coming back just in less than 48 hours.
RAY SUAREZ: Have some parts of the city been hit worse than others? Are they there older homes or younger homes that seem not to have weathered the storm very well?
MARTY DONOVAN: Well, the worst devastating part of the city in the area, of course, is where the barrier islands… I don’t know what the estimate was on the tidal surge, but I’m sure it was in the neighborhood of twelve to fifteen feet of water came across the barrier islands.
And then the properties running directly on the Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay, there was quite a tidal surge, too. In fact, the water in the city of Pensacola, for those who know the city, from the bay, came all the way up to Garden Street, which is about a quarter of a mile to a half a mile north inland from the bay. So we’ve never seen a tidal surge like this in Pensacola.
Again, you have to go back to the hurricane of 1912 and the marinas along the waterfront were devastated. Many of the buildings were directly in the storm’s path and in the downtown area of Pensacola collapsed; a lot of windows blown out.
But most of the damage by and large is trees down on people’s homes, roofs taken off, that kind of thing. A lot of the roads in the city are totally impassable due to the tangle of electrical wires and trees that are lying across the roads right now.
RAY SUAREZ: Peter Teahan, let me go back to you. With people so badly affected that thousands have neither electricity nor drinkable water and no near-term prospect of either, how do you triage your response? What’s the first thing you have to do for people who have been in very hard hit areas?
PETER TEAHEN: The way we look at it is the most important things right now is shelter and feeding operations. We provided shelters in the area and can continue opening more as the need arise.
But I think good news for everyone in the Pensacola and surrounding area is food is on its way. We’re bringing MRE’s in, we have mobile kitchens in cooperation with the Southern Baptists setting up kitchen and Red Cross mobile kitchens are en route.
We’ll produce thousands of meals each day and deliver them the families as well as have congregate sites where families can come and eat. Those kitchens should start setting up tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll start feeding tomorrow or the next day. So food is finally here. In addition to that, we’ll have water.
We have semi trucks full of bottled water that will be distributed to families because food and water is critical if these people are going to stay healthy, if they’re going to be able to recover successfully, we have to make sure that the healthy conditions exist in Pensacola to make it exist in the long run.
RAY SUAREZ: Is it harder to do your work with people who are overwhelmed, heavily burdened, feeling despondent and depressed than it is with people who are optimistic and may feel they that they won’t be out of their homes for very long?
PETER TEAHEN: Well, of course, disaster brings out both types of individuals, the optimist and those who are struggling to make it through the disaster. And that’s why American Red Cross offers mental health professionals to come in and people who have emotional struggles with the disaster can call the Red Cross and get emotional psychological mental health crisis intervention.
But, you know, sometimes the best mental health is provided by your neighbor. And we call it psychological band-aids, and that’s just taking time to talk to your neighbor, to look out and make sure people around you are doing okay.
Often times we talk about the three “T”s, taking time to talk about what’s happened to you with a friend or someone close; taking time to tear, to make sure you let your emotions out and then taking time to heal. Three things people can do to help themselves through these critical days.
RAY SUAREZ: Peter Teahan of the American Red Cross, Marty Donovan of the Pensacola City Council, gentlemen, thank you both.
PETER TEAHEN: Thank you.
MARTY ]: Thank you, Ray.