When Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the shores of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017, thousands of people were left without power, food and livable homes. Those that survived the unimaginable destruction of the storms were left to pillage through the rubble, looking for loved ones and salvage their personal belongings.
While many in the U.S. banded together to donate resources for those affected by the storms, active duty military personnel overseas also wanted to give back and decided to act. Five volunteers from Kadena Air Base deployed to the Caribbean to aid in the American Red Cross disaster relief operations.
U.S. Virgin Islands
, a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team for the past three years, returned to his hometown of Charlotte Amalie in the Virgin Islands and decided to help both his family and those in the community affected by the hurricanes.
“The destruction was the worst I’ve ever seen. Homes were gone. Families were gone. People were broken,” Campbell recalled.
While visiting his family in the Virgin Islands, he chose to stay and join the Red Cross disaster relief team. Due to local knowledge, Campbell was able to identify needs and get help to the survivors on the island; medical care, personal care items, food, and water were needed the most. “Disaster response and communication” played a critical role in the success of the relief efforts.
“If you don’t know how to handle the situation, the situation will handle you,” Campbell said.
Due to his active duty responsibilities, Campbell could only stay in the Virgin Islands for a short time, but his experience left a lasting impression. He is humbled and proud to have served with the Red Cross, and looks forward to returning to help with future relief efforts. Looking to the future, Campbell urges people to educate themselves on preparedness measures.
“It’s the most critical element in any situation. Being knowledgeable of your situation and how to react to it,” he said.
Licensed nurse and healthcare professional Luana Weeks answered the call for Spanish-speaking volunteers to deploy to St. Croix after Hurricane Maria tore through the small island. Since moving to Okinawa at the beginning of 2017, Weeks has served as a Red Cross volunteer at the Medical Clinic on Kadena Air Base. Upon hearing about the opportunity in St. Croix, Weeks was eager to represent the Kadena Red Cross disaster team.
During her time in St. Croix, Weeks monitored local residents in the shelter where she worked; checking blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as making sure residents took the proper dosage of medication.
“Most of the people were in critical health. I was faced with making the decision of whether to send patients to the hospitals knowing that they were already overloaded with patients,” she said.
The other volunteers took notice of Weeks’ care, as did the patients themselves. They sometimes were reluctant to go home because of Weeks’ professional, attentive care at the shelter.
While Weeks’ volunteer experience in St. Croix was arduous, she walked away from her deployment knowing the impact she and other Red Cross volunteers had for the people in St. Croix.
“They saw us being there in a positive way because we helped them [with their care],” Weeks said. “They knew we had their best interests in mind, they knew just how much the American Red Cross could help.”
and his wife Stephanie Ramirez
, both native Puerto Ricans living in Okinawa, deployed to Puerto Rico as Red Cross disaster workers to aid relief efforts following the devastation from Hurricane Maria.
“I was really interested in helping my people,” Ramirez remarked.
After experiencing his own frustrations in trying to reach his family in the aftermath of the storm, Escalera decided to accompany his wife with the disaster team heading to Puerto Rico. Having helped with past hurricanes, he knew his training and experience would be a big help to response efforts.
“I wanted to help my family,” Ramirez said. “I wanted to help the people there. When something like this happens, you feel like everyone on the island is your family.”
His knowledge of the local terrain, his leadership experience, and Red Cross training allowed him to successfully lead disaster relief teams to help those in need in Puerto Rico. Being native Spanish speakers also enabled he and his wife to communicate with distressed residents.
“There was no electricity or water on the island,” Ramirez recalled of the harsh conditions. “ATM machines and phones did not work. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw there.”
The couple focused their efforts on completing Safe and Well forms for survivors to help with communication to remote family members. They also set up satellite communication locations, which enabled people to connect their cell phones and reach family and friends. Stephanie recalls the impact of these efforts on those they were helping.
“They were happy because they finally got to talk to their family. We watched their sadness and despair change to happiness in those moments,” she recalled.
Both Escalera and Ramirez hope to help again with future relief effort operations. For now, they are happy to have helped their native Puerto Ricans and continue to serve as Red Cross volunteers.
Red Cross volunteer, Geysel Pineiro, also deployed to Puerto Rico.
The Red Cross continues to support relief efforts in those areas affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Kadena Station is proud to have dedicated volunteers and extends the most sincere appreciation to Campbell, Weeks, Escalera, and Ramirez for their service following the aftermath of this summer’s natural disasters. These volunteers were recognized at Kadena Station’s Quarterly Recognition event on Friday, January 26th at the Kadena USO.
Fast Facts Hurricanes Irma and Maria (Puerto Rico and USVI) (As of December 18, 2017)
• Since Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico, the Red Cross has served more than 8.5 million (8,501,900) meals and snacks, distributed more than 3.5 million (3,555,200) relief supplies, and provided more than 31,200 mental health and health services to people in need. Right now, more than 500 Red Cross disaster workers are still helping.
• Since Irma and Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Red Cross has served more than 82,700 meals and snacks, handed out more than 758,300 relief items, and provided more than 6,600 mental health and health services to people in need. Right now, about 30 trained Red Cross disaster workers are still helping.