Red Cross volunteer recounts experience of giving aid after hurricane

Wreckage left in the wake of Hurricane Isaac is testimony to the loss of property suffered by residents of LaPlace, La.
George Quinlan
Wreckage left in the wake of Hurricane Isaac is testimony to the loss of property suffered by residents of LaPlace, La.
Posted Oct. 09, 2012, at 3:48 p.m.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Three hurricanes, Katrina, Ike and Isaac, wreaked havoc in the southern part of the United States over the past seven years. Red Cross volunteers have led assistance efforts for people affected by the storms. After returning from his third hurricane relief effort for the Red Cross, George Quinlan, 61, of Kennebunk remains affected by the work he did and just as committed as ever.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, Quinlan felt compelled to offer assistance to those in need with mobile food units. He completed emergency medical technician training and went to Texas to help with Hurricane Ike in 2007. For Hurricane Isaac, Quinlan left for Louisiana on Sept. 2 and stayed until Sept. 18, giving medical services to people affected by the storm.

During Quinlan’s two-week volunteer stint he performed a variety of work. Sometimes he went with a caseworker to find people, sometimes worked at a feeding station and other times provided medical services at shelters.

“I ended up on a ‘Hot Shot’ team made up of Health Services personnel and client caseworkers,” Quinlan said. “The team sometimes contained a mental health worker, depending on the day.”

The problems survivors faced were not just issues due to the hurricane; often they had chronic health issues and or a lack of medication, he said.

“When the electricity goes out, a diabetic’s insulin will go bad, because it needs to be refrigerated. One man’s prosthetic legs were destroyed [when he] waded out to a rescue boat,” Quinlan said.

Many people lost their medication for chronic conditions. Some people just needed health education about the dangers of black mold. Health and hygiene education was an important part of his job, he said.

Hurricane Isaac stalled and dropped 24 inches of rain, causing flooding and wind damage, depending on the location. Quinlan said areas such as La Place, La., had floods that hadn’t seen flooding in 50 years. La Place was hit particularly hard by Isaac. Quinlan said he spoke to an 85-year-old woman who lost everything in the hurricane. Her 107-year-old father, who lived down the street, said he had never seen flooding so bad.

After the flood waters receded, everything began to smell, Quinlan said. In one house in Lafitte, the stench was so bad he asked a 7-year-old girl to help him bring back food so she could get some fresh air. Her father, a 70-year-old, was working on their house, damaged by the hurricane.

Her father was hit in the face with a door trying to get out of his house after the hurricane. The man lost four teeth, a bridge and a partial. The man said he didn’t want anything but some physical help to rebuild and clean his home.

In the Mississippi River delta area, caskets cannot be buried six feet underground because of ground water levels, he said. Plaquemine was hig particularly hard, with caskets that were pushed out of the ground. Rushing water from the levees ripped crypts off the ground, cracking them and spilling their contents.

Quinlan’s wife, Victoria, said her husband is a strong man with a big heart.

“When the children get hurt, that’s when he falls apart,” she said.

Quinlan said helping after hurricanes makes him feel blessed for what he has back at home.

“People down there really didn’t want anything,” he said. “They said, ‘Please go help the people that really need it.’ I feel lucky.”

To learn more about volunteering for the Red Cross, visit maineredcross .org.

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