PORTLAND, Maine — Retired Portland nurse Bonnie MacInnes described Wednesday morning what she expected to see in New York over the next few weeks.
“Mass devastation. Destroyed neighborhoods. A lot of hurt people. And a lot of people pulling together to help.”
The latter is where MacInnes and 12 other Maine-based Red Cross volunteers come in. Wednesday morning, the organization’s first Maine group packed up and began the trip to White Plains, N.Y., where response and recovery efforts are being organized to aid those displaced by Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of nearby New York City.
The initial Pine Tree State contingent — which likely will be followed by “dozens” of other local Red Cross volunteers in the weeks ahead, according to regional communications director Jason Shedlock — included eight from the Portland area and five from the Bangor area. Among them were medical personnel, mental health professionals and shelter workers, local Red Cross readiness manager Paul Clark said.
“This is a big deal,” Red Cross response manager Eric Lynes told the group of marshaled volunteers Wednesday morning during a preparatory briefing. “You’re going to be faced with a lot of different things that bring out a lot of different emotions.”
The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that Hurricane Sandy has killed at least 19 New Yorkers and was responsible for $20 billion in damage in the East Coast’s largest city during its blitz of the metropolis Monday and Tuesday.
Images of flooded streets and neighborhoods leveled by fires circulated widely in the aftermath of the storm, which drowned New York’s bustling subway system and shut down the city’s influential stock market for two days for the first time since the late 19th century.
“We’ll be seeing large shelters and a lot of people,” said departing Red Cross volunteer Joyce Tanguay of South Portland, who was previously deployed by the organization in response to Hurricane Isaac in Baton Rouge, La.
MacInnes said the first Maine Red Cross group is expected to be in New York for about two weeks. She said that as a nurse, she could find herself doing everything from giving out medications to inserting feeding tubes to simply listening to a displaced New Yorker’s concerns.
“Many of these people have been separated from family members and have lost everything they have,” Shedlock said. “That’s a very emotionally trying experience, and sometimes it makes a big difference to hear somebody say it’s going to get better, and that people are available to help.”
Donations to the Red Cross and its disaster relief efforts can be made through the local branch website at maineredcross.org, or call 874-1192 or 795-4004 for information.