September 17, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Responding to Floyd. Correspondent Tom Bearden spent the past two days with people trying to help the hurricane victims. Heres his report.
TOM BEARDEN: As the storm tracked along the East Coast on Wednesday, the American Red Cross was mustering people and equipment in Atlanta. Part of their fleet of more than 200 Emergency Response Vehicles, or ERVs for short, began arriving from local Red Cross chapters all over the country. These are the trucks that deliver food, snacks, and water to people in disaster areas. Long-time volunteer Linda Smrsky is from Norman Oklahoma. Shes participating in her fourth national disaster this year. She says disaster victims are always very appreciative.
LINDA SMRSKY, Red Cross Volunteer: After theyve worked all day long or theyve worked - you know, theyve been working on their houses - they need the food but they need to relax also, so when they get their meals, it gives them a chance to sit down and take some time off and, you know, back off a ways.
TOM BEARDEN: On Thursday, as the storm crossed the North Carolina coastline, the volunteers who operate the trucks and provide all sorts of other disaster assistance were being processed at an airport cargo office. They filled out medical forms, filed for expense vouchers, and got briefed on what to expect.
RON SPEAKS, National Red Cross: The big one then is North Carolina. They had 197 shelters opened and still do right now; theyve got about 40,000 people sheltered. Theyve got widespread power outages throughout the southern part of the state, major flooding in the southern part of the state, still rain coming down at an inch per hour.
TOM BEARDEN: But, mostly, they waited for the Red Cross leadership to decide where they should go. Richard Harder, a retired construction foreman who drives the ERV based in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was patiently waiting for instructions.
TOM BEARDEN: So you dont think youre going to be going to the disaster area today?
RICHARD HARDER, Red Cross Volunteer: Maybe this afternoon. They have to set it up first - get the -- what I call the administrative functions organized. To get that done it takes a couple of three hours. We may roll out in the morning; we may roll out this afternoon; we dont know.
TOM BEARDEN: As mid-afternoon approached this group of ERVs was still sitting in a motel parking lot, and some people were getting frustrated.
WOMAN: Is 2023 handy? Okay. Youll go to Raleigh.
MAN: We already have our paperwork. Are we released to go?
WOMAN: You wait for the rest of them to leave. Okay?
TOM BEARDEN: John Clizbe is Vice President for Disaster Services for the National Red Cross. He says the delay was unusual and the result of the nature of the storm.
JOHN CLIZBE, National Red Cross: I think thats one of the things thats happened with a storm of this size has been trying to find the right place to send people, and we know that we have sent - weve put people in sort of staging areas and in motel areas, and sort of waited to see now is the storm going to come into South Carolina, is it going to go into North Carolina, where are we going to need them the most, and thats been a unique challenge here.
MAN: Were going to be sending some kitchen teams to North Carolina and South Carolina.
TOM BEARDEN: ERV teams began to hit the road at 2:30 for the more than 400-mile drive to the coast. This couple was headed for Wilmington, North Carolina. The Red Cross discourages the teams from driving after dark, so they decided to stop for the night 100 miles short of their destination. At dawn this morning dozens of ERV drivers found themselves prevented from entering Wilmington by high water. At the Red Cross Operations Center local staffers were trying to figure out how to get them into a city cut off by flooding.
MAN: Were bringing in our food this way - 75 miles. Where will we distribute the food, the water, the ice, when were set up? Do we have a plan?
MAN: No, we dont. Actually, what Id like to do is Id like to go ahead and use the schools - use their parking lot.
TOM BEARDEN: The local chapter had set up emergency shelters at several locations, including this school. They were all but empty today. Most people had returned to their homes. But the Cape Fear Red Cross chapters executive director, Dean Dimke, says not everybody will be able to do that because their homes were destroyed or damaged.
DEAN DIMKE, North Carolina Red Cross: As many as 20 homes have been completely destroyed. Close to 300 homes had major damage, and close to 3000 homes had minor damage. And the important thing to know about these numbers are that they will go up significantly due to the fact that about 30 percent of our area we were unable to get to because of flooding and - you know - it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that the worst homes may very well lie behind those flooded areas.
TOM BEARDEN: Dimke says the Red Cross will be dealing with their problems for quite a while - out of the public eye.
DEAN DIMKE: The camera crews show up; they all take their pictures when the storms happening., the immediate aftermath, and then the next story comes up. And hundreds of people are trying to get their lives back together, and thats where the Red Cross keeps working. Its not - it wont be uncommon - if three, four months from now were still doing casework and helping individual families.
TOM BEARDEN: Late this afternoon, the ERVs made it through the flooded roads. They began loading hot food for delivery to people who have been displaced by floodwaters, which are predicted to continue rising.