Kingman volunteer goes through a tough initiation

Connie Wagner's first national disaster serving as a volunteer for the Red Cross was a doozy - Hurricane Sandy.

She was one of two volunteers from Mohave County that the Red Cross flew to the east coast to help the residents of New York state recover from Hurricane Sandy. Jenna Hulke from Lake Havasu City was the other.

Wagner is a licensed practical nurse and has volunteered with the Red Cross for a year and a half.

"This was the first national disaster I had gone on. I would do it again," she said.

"It was quite the experience," Wagner said. "I received a call Monday night (Nov. 5) and I was told to call another number to book my flight to New York."

She was able to book a flight for the next day, but a large storm delayed the flight and she ended up landing in White Plains, N.Y., on Nov. 8.

She was assigned to a shelter at a high school in Farmingdale on Long Island.

"It was an amazing experience. We had about 40 to 50 people of all ages at the shelter - families, children, adults, seniors," she said.

Most of the people in the shelter were there because their homes were damaged by the storm surge.

"There were some people who had three to 10 feet of water in their homes," Wagner said.

Others, who lived further inland, came to the shelter because they didn't have any electricity.

"Once they got power back, they were able to go home," she said.

Wagner spent most of her two weeks volunteering in the shelter.

"We were there 24 hours a day. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) had three people at all times in the shelter helping people sign up for the aid they needed," she said. "We also did outreach efforts, where we would go door to door in a neighborhood asking people if they needed help with food or medical attention."

"Mostly people just needed someone to talk to, to assure them that the Red Cross and FEMA were doing everything possible for them," Wagner said.

The Red Cross also sent emergency response vehicles to various neighborhoods.

"They would provide food every day for people who were staying in their homes. They would honk their horn and people would come out for a hot meal," Wagner said.

During the last few days of her stay, Wagner was assigned to an area about three blocks from the ocean.

"It was just devastating," she said. "People had furniture piled up on their lawn. Some of the lawns had sand in them from the water and there were (ruined) cars everywhere."

"I think one thing people don't realize is that neither the Red Cross nor FEMA are allowed to go into an area unless it is safe," she said. "Another thing I don't think people realize is that 90 percent of the Red Cross is volunteers. They really do an amazing job, especially with the turnover in supervisors every two weeks."

"There's just so few of us. It would be awesome if more people got involved in (the Red Cross)," Wagner said. "You don't have to go to national disasters. You can help out right here."

She said most of the disasters she's responded to involved local home fires, where she was able to provide temporary aid to families.

"The Red Cross is able to give them money for food and clothes and a few days stay in a hotel, but the Red Cross is strictly a disaster response organization," Wagner said. "It's not a long-term fix."

For more on the Red Cross, call (928) 453-5410.