Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Boots on the Ground: WCC recognized for Missouri response efforts

by Bridget Mason, Washington Conservation Corps

Members of the Washington Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps recognized by the House of Representatives in OlympiaMembers and staff from Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps — affiliated with the federal AmeriCorps program — aren’t accustomed to spending their workdays seated in a clean, comfortable building.

They usually spend their days outside — rain or shine — planting trees or building trails.

Jan. 31, 2012, however, was an altogether unique day for WCC crew supervisor Rob Crawford and member Alex McCarty.

Missouri House honors AmeriCorps, including WCC

Rob and Alex were in Jefferson City, Mo., to witness the passage of a Missouri House resolution recognizing the contributions that AmeriCorps members from around the country made in May 2011, in Joplin, Mo.

Alex and Rob were representing 10 other WCC teammates who had been deployed to St. Louis, three weeks before the Joplin twister occurred, to clear downed trees and other debris from earlier storms.

On the evening of May 22, 2011, WCC crews were still in St. Louis where they had taken shelter from approaching tornados. Then, they got a request to move their response efforts to Joplin on the other side of the state.

Deadliest U.S. tornado in 60 years

The crews drove through the night, arriving in Joplin at 4 a.m. The devastation was beyond imagination.

The EF-5 tornado proved to be the nation’s deadliest in more than 60 years, killing 161 residents and destroying more than 7,000 homes, churches, schools and businesses.

The crews navigated blocked roads, bit by bit, making their way to the local Red Cross, where donations and volunteers began arriving shortly after 5 a.m.

There was quick work to accomplish. Our WCC members:
  • Operated volunteer registration centers and missing person hotlines.

  • Coordinated debris removal.

  • Conducted damage assessments.

  • Used chainsaws to clear paths so local first responders could enter damaged homes and businesses to rescue victims.

Cadre of AmeriCorps members in Joplin

AmeriCorps is a national network of programs that engages more than 70,000 Americans each year in service to meet community needs, from environmental degradation to illiteracy. It makes AmeriCorps an incredible resource for responding to disasters throughout the country.

The WCC program assisted in initial response efforts in Joplin alongside members from:
  • AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team

  • National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC)

  • Iowa Conservation Corps
As the long-term rebuilding effort in Joplin continues, almost 20 different AmeriCorps programs from around the country have been involved in helping residents. These AmeriCorps members put the infrastructure in place to ensure a coordinated effort in managing the 60,000 volunteers that flooded in to help. City officials estimate AmeriCorps managed and supported these volunteers who provided more than 579,000 hours of donated service worth more $18 million.

WCC members spring to action

When disasters happen, our WCC lines often get overwhelmed with calls from members and supervisors, volunteering to help. These are a group of caring people, willing to go anywhere at a moment’s notice, sleep on floors, and eat dehydrated food pouches for weeks on end.

While working on the tornado response in Missouri, WCC’s 10 AmeriCorps members and 2 crew supervisors provided 4,200 hours of service — including 1,140 hours spent serving the community in Joplin.

Our responders worked extremely hard during their 36 days of deployment – taking just three days of “rest.”

Joplin experience different than other incidents

The response to the terrible tornado in Joplin was a difficult one for our WCC responders. They witnessed death and disaster firsthand. Our WCC team members who went to Joplin returned with no pictures, explaining that they would have felt too guilty photographing such devastation.

In the past, our WCC crews have responded to ice storms in the Midwest and hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast. They have conducted shelter operations in Texas after wildfires and helped Washingtonians recover after severe floods. Spending time with community members who have been affected by these disasters often has a profound and lasting effect on our WCC members. They are always humbled by the generosity of people who have lost so much but still take the time to deliver cold water or hot cider to the boots on the ground.

Recognizing all involved

During the Missouri House’s recognition ceremony, state Rep. Charlie Davis spoke about the diverse backgrounds of the 60,000 people who volunteered in Joplin.

As Alex said, he worked alongside volunteers from the United States and abroad, including people from Germany and Japan.

Rob said, “It was a privilege to be chosen to represent the WCC members and staff — and all the volunteers — who responded in Missouri.”

The following is a list of all WCC responders who were deployed to Missouri:
Taylor Barker
Rob Crawford, crew supervisor
Jeff Delarosa
Caleb Dobey
Alex McCarty
Chris McGinn
Aaron Minney
Matt Rowell
Mike Stowell, crew supervisor
Zach Schut
Sarah Stover
Horace Ward
On behalf of Ecology, we’d like to graciously thank all of them for their state and national service.

No comments: