West Michigan sends volunteers for ‘Sandy’ relief

West Michigan sends volunteers for ‘Sandy’ relief

Thirty West Michigan volunteers with the American Red Cross are helping Maryland residents outlast super storm “Sandy,” which has pounded the East Coast. Courtesy West Michigan Region of the American Red Cross

It has been hailed as the perfect storm.

Superstorm Sandy, at nearly twice the size of Texas, blew record books away Monday night by becoming one of the worst hurricanes ever recorded.

By 5 p.m. Monday, with top winds of 90 mph, Hurricane Sandy was declared a Category Two Hurricane, being called one of worst storms to ever hit the U.S. East Coast.

New York City took some of the worst of the beating, as waves, some 13 feet high, swelled into the subways and streets of Manhattan, causing record flooding and turning the Big Apple into a fortress under siege.

For many, Sandy contained some of the most horrifying storm photos ever captured in Manhattan. Witnesses captured the sights of flooded subways, underwater cars and even the frightening image of a damaged crane, dangling precariously 90 stories over 57th Street in Manhattan.

As of Tuesday morning, Sandy’s wake has already left a confirmed 16 U.S. dead, 66 Caribbean dead, and killed the power of about 7.5 million electric customers in 10 different states, according to news reports. Reuters reported a predicted $5 billion to $10 billion in insured losses and another $10 billion to $20 billion in economic losses.

President Obama went on the air and issued a public statement, asking those in harm’s way to follow the requests of first responders, some of whom are from West Michigan.

The American Red Cross already sent its people in Saturday, said Chip Kragt, West Michigan’s Red Cross director of emergency services.

Thirty West Michigan volunteers, 13 of whom were from Grand Rapids, got behind the wheels of Red Cross emergency response vehicles and drove to Baltimore for pre-land fall work, prepping the surrounding areas likely to be hit, Kragt said.

“Right now we’re in a holding pattern. It’s not safe to send more volunteers yet,” he said. “As soon as the rain quits, we will assess our needs over there and send more as needed. The entire Red Cross organization is focused on giving the East Coast organizations what they need to be successful.”

All the donations that can be made to the Red Cross for hurricane relief would be greatly appreciated, said Kragt. It can be frustrating staying behind during such a devastating event, he said, but every kind of support progresses the overall mission to help Americans in need.

“Here in West Michigan, we’re in a support role. We want to be closer, helping people directly, but there are some of us who need to stay back and help direct people along,” he said. “On the scale of disasters, we’re preparing for it to be huge. We’re going to treat this like the biggest disaster we’ve seen in five to 10 years.”

Red Cross is not alone in its mission to head into the storm rather than away.

On Sunday, West Michigan’s Consumers Energy sent people to Maryland to begin repairing damage, said Roger Morgenstern, Consumers’ senior public information director.

A team of 14 Consumers engineering support personal and contract crews of 120 workers will do line work and rebuild poles, he said, and, depending on the storm’s severity, could be there for weeks.

Consumers’ first concern is for Michigan customers, Morgenstern said, and although Consumers is waiting to send more people when they can process the situation better, he expects there will be plenty of work ahead.

“Obviously, you get a hurricane in Mississippi, it doesn’t do anything to Michigan, but this storm is so huge we’re already feeling winds,” he said. “I’m happy to be sitting in Grand Rapids.”

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