Red Cross volunteers come to the aid of tornado victims

Written by Doug Zellmer  of The Northwestern

Martin Evans surveys the damage to his roof-less house in northeast Raleigh, N.C., on April 19. Cleanup was ongoing as the whole neighborhood was littered with parts of trees and homes damaged in the recent tornado. Eight people from the American Red Cross of East Central Wisconsin, headquartered in Oshkosh, have been dispatched to the tornado-ravaged south for relief efforts. / associated press

Barbara Behling saw destruction in North Carolina that is hard to imagine.

“It was like an erector set gone mad. It was worse than anything I had ever seen,” said Behling, who recently returned from assisting North Carolina tornado victims as a volunteer from the American Red Cross of East Central Wisconsin.

Behling was in North Carolina for about a week as part of an advance public affairs team. She returned to Wisconsin the day before Easter. The twisters struck the southern states about three weeks ago and took the lives of more than 300 people.

“I was amazed at how widespread the damage was. Some gorgeous homes were hit,” Behling said. “There were entire blocks of houses that were like twisted timbers turned into toothpicks. There were splinters everywhere.”

Behling said she helped in the North Carolina cities of Raleigh, Sanford and Fayetteville, the home of Fort Bragg, a massive U.S. Army base.

“Fort Bragg itself had a few trees down. Military personnel and their families that lived off the base took a direct hit,” said Behling, who is regional community development officer for the Red Cross of East Central Wisconsin, which is headquartered in Oshkosh.

She recalled a Red Cross colleague, who told her about a Sanford woman who was in a bathtub when the tornado tossed it 100 yards. Behling said the woman survived to tell her story.

“She was traumatized, but really unhurt,” she said.

Behling had a number of duties, with one being to assist in getting the Tide laundry truck to help those in the tornado ravaged area who had no way to do laundry. She said the tornado had destroyed the Laundromat in Sanford.

“We’re like an Army of goodwill and equipment,” she said. “We worked with people who have nothing. We were cast into a difficult situation where you just wanted to make someone’s life a little easier. Mother Nature took a giant swipe at some beautiful people.”

Eight people from the Red Cross of East Central Wisconsin have been deployed to help tornado victims in the southern states, including retired Oshkosh police chief Jim Thome, who is in Mississippi, and Nick Cluppert, emergency services manager for the agency, who will go to Alabama. Ripon resident Tom Powell spent time helping tornado victims in Mississippi and has returned home.

Thome is deployed as a life safety and asset protection supervisor. It’s an activity that helps to ensure that an area is as safe and secure as is reasonably possible. Thome could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cluppert said he found out Wednesday morning that he’ll go to Alabama, where some of the worst tornado damage occurred. He said his duties will likely include helping family members connect with loved ones who they have not been able to reach.

Cluppert flies today to Birmingham, Ala., for a three week deployment.

“I’m a little bit nervous, but it’s nice to get out and use my training and to bring back experiences that I learn on this deployment so our chapter can be better prepared if something would happen here locally,” Cluppert said.

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