Although Sally Lockett has been involved with the Pettis County Chapter of the American Red Cross for 20 years, she had never traveled to a national disaster area until October when Hurricane Matthew brought major flooding to the east coast.
Thursday morning she spoke to a small group about her experiences at the Pettis County Red Cross on South Lamine Avenue.
After speaking, Lockett explained how she contacted Valarie Swanson, the former executive director of the Pettis County Chapter, Oct. 7 and told her she was interested helping with Red Cross efforts in North Carolina. Swanson then called Greater Kansas City Chapter Disaster Program Specialist Terri Layton. By Oct. 13 Lockett was on a plane heading to the disaster area.
“I had loved the idea 20 years ago in the chapter here,” Lockett said after her presentation. “We had several different people who have served in all different capacities. When they came back they did a talk sort of like I did.”
She added that the speakers always wore their disaster vests and she enjoyed hearing their stories. She never forgot the one-on-one experiences the volunteers spoke about, although at the time she was unable to travel far because she had young children. Through the years, she began to taking classes preparing herself to one day help on a larger scale.
In October, Lockett was unsure if the Red Cross would allow her to go, because her training was many years ago. Layton assured her it wasn’t a problem.
“It happened really fast,” Lockett said.
“Once they tell me they’ll go, they’re going,” Layton added. “I don’t give them any time to think about it.”
Lockett was given a list of 13 possible hardship codes she might encounter while assisting, such as limited food supply, power outages and extreme emotional experiences. She noted that she looked over the hardships but didn’t realize exactly what they meant. Layton advised her that she’d “better buy a blanket” before she got on the plane because she would be encountering each of those hardships before she returned.
Once on the plane to Wilmington, North Carolina, she took out her disaster vest and put it on and placed her blanket into her bag. When she put the vest on everything changed.
“I put it on and zipped it up and (I went) from being anonymous, where no one looks at you, … suddenly people were smiling back at me and nodding,” she said.
She said that as she traveled and saw more Red Cross volunteers she realized that “suddenly you begin to be a team.”
“That camaraderie begins to build,” Lockett, who calls herself a newbie, added. “You slap each other on the back, total strangers, but you know you are in this together and you are going to do the best you can.”
While in North Carolina, she was part of a damage assessment team who traveled by road throughout different counties to assess damage to houses.
“Hurricane Matthew didn’t damage coastal areas, but the rain came inland and filled reservoirs, and they had to be released and it broke some levees,” she said. “So, all of the bayou and river areas were extremely flooded.”
According to records kept by the Weather Channel, as much as 18.38 inches of rain fell on North Carolina during the storm.
“They had never, ever seen anything like that before in recorded history,” Layton said.
“There were 13 counties that were really impacted,” Lockett added.
She noted that while working with damage assessment teams she “learned a great deal.”
“You go out in cars in small teams,” she said. “You keep in contact by phone and you have maps, you use phone GPS too to find places (and) you knock out all the rural roads in the county.”
The team found some roads impassible. One gravel county road had large four-foot holes washed out, making it impossible to navigate. Lockett and her team also found people stranded by flooding.
“In one case there was a trailer and she was on an island, with the bayou on one side, and the river on the other,” Lockett said. “We didn’t know if anyone lived there, but there were dogs inside and outside.”
She added that they were trying to assess the degree of damage to the property, so they knocked on the door but no one answered. They turned to leave, but saw faces looking through the window.
“We started to walk away and two little faces, little bitty people, they were standing on the sofa and they had parted the curtains,” she said. “They were peeking at us through the curtains.”
She knocked again and a woman came out of the trailer. The woman said she didn’t answer because she was unsure who was at the door and she was afraid. The family had no water, no power and no transportation. Lockett said she and her team were able to call in supplies for the family.
“We lined her up with a neighbor to get her to a nearby shelter,” Lockett noted. “Before we left that area, we had her with water and an ERV (emergency rescue vehicle) for an immediate feeding. She probably got power within the next day. She was scared to death and was just trying to maintain.”
Layton said during the Hurricane Matthew disaster the Southern Baptists were supplying meals with large mobile kitchens for the victims. Red Cross volunteers would then take the food to the people in cambos or large steel boxes that kept the food warm.
“ERVs travel through the neighborhoods and they have large speakers on them so they can call out to the homes, that they have food, or bulk distributions,” Layton added. “We generally take one hot meal per day into the communities and into the shelters. They get three meals, but they get one hot meal for sure.”
Lockett said during her volunteer service she learned the meaning of flexibility.
“Flexibility was way up there on the list,” she noted. “When we first got there, the shelter itself had been there maybe a week, but they didn’t have a lot of personnel there. I don’t want to use the word chaos, because I was a newbie for a big operation like that, so that was my first impression. But, I learned later, that wasn’t chaos, everybody knew exactly what they were doing.”
“All of these people are volunteering,” Layton said. “There is such a sense of urgency. They know the longer it takes them to get working, the longer it takes the people to get taken care of.”
When Lockett was asked if she like to be a Red Cross volunteer again she said “yes.”
“I said to my husband, Fred (Branson), ‘I want to do this again,’” she noted. “I said ‘maybe we could do it together.’ He could drive an ERV … well he didn’t say no.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or on Twitter @flbemiss.