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Four local volunteers lend a hand in North Dakota

By Staff | Mar 28, 2009

Four local Red Cross volunteers landed in North Dakota this week to aid local residents in fending off severe flooding from the state’s Red River. Lee County volunteer Ron Saberton’s blog discusses the frigid weather in Fargo, disaster preparedness and his expectations for dealing with those who lost everything.
Southwest Florida deployed four volunteers who are licensed mental health workers to counsel residents who lost their homes and belongings.
“I’m anticipating meeting a lot of distraught people who may be losing their homes,” wrote Saberton.
There are at least 300 Red Cross volunteers, he said, with another 900 expected to arrive throughout the weekend.
Deployments typically last three weeks, although Colin Downey, spokesperson for the local chapter, said it’s difficult to determine how long Lee County volunteers would stay in North Dakota. As soon as Saberton arrived on Thursday he was issued a vehicle and traveled 25 miles north of Fargo to another affected area.
National reports from the Associated Press stated that forecasters expect an additional two feet of water to the already 41 feet present. In many cases the flooding is higher than piled sandbags near evacuated homes.
Many volunteers said it was odd to see the flooding continue even though the state is blanketed with snow from a storm.
“There’s intermittent snow and the roads are covered in ice, making for very risky driving,” said Saberton. “It’s 14 degrees right now. It’s very windy, kind of like a hurricane but white and much colder.”
On Thursday trucks were loading with supplies for people filling sandbags across the river, said Saberton, but freezing weather put a wrench in the process after many of the bags froze solid and were difficult to stack.
In his blog, Saberton said he was impressed with the volunteers and residents working in concert to block off the rising river.
“The Red Cross is right here, though. It’s very impressive, the attitudes of the people, their willingness to help is great,” said Saberton.
He also joked that he didn’t know where he would be sleeping. Red Cross volunteers often work 20 hour days during deployment and Saberton wasn’t expecting a lot of time to rest.
“I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping tonight,” he said. “Right now it’s minute by minute.”
So far the Red Cross has deployed 409 volunteers, according to an update on Friday, as well as 30 emergency response vehicles and more than 55,000 ready-to-eat meals. For relatives of those uprooted in North Dakota, the organization offers a “Safe and Well Web site” where victims can leave messages for their friends and families.
Local ARC spokesman Downey will be deployed to North Dakota next week to employ his role as a media representative in flooded areas. He has been using online programs such as “Twitter” to periodically update the public using the chapter’s Web site (www.arclcc.org).