Red Cross mobilizes volunteers from across country

MARYSVILLE — A wave of calls and texts began streaming into Chuck Morrison’s phone about noon on March 22.

Two hours later, the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross had begun coordinating an emergency response to the Oso mudslide from offices on Lombard Avenue in Everett.

“Our task that day was to have five shelters either set up or available,” said Morrison, the executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.

For the first 48 hours following the destructive mudslide, no one knew if a second tragedy would be triggered — a wall of water that would surge downstream, causing even more flooding, he said.

As the enormity of the disaster began to be apparent, the Red Cross mobilized volunteers. Some came from throughout Snohomish County. Others responded from other parts of the state. And many came from across the nation: Vermont, Hawaii, South Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, California, Colorado and Oregon.

The list of Red Cross personnel who have responded now totals nearly 400, 87 percent of whom are volunteers.

“People from all over the country have rallied to help us,” said Bob Dolhanyk, who joined the Red Cross on March 6 after working as Marysville’s emergency coordinator.

While many people associate the organization’s work with establishing shelters and providing meals to both those affected by the disaster and those called in to search the area, much of the work the organization is doing takes place in cavernous donated warehouse space in Marysville, where the organization moved about a week after the landslide.

About 60 people were working there Tuesday, huddled over laptops on fold-up tables. Their work includes coordinating with state and federal agencies and area nonprofits, eliminating overlapping efforts and helping dispatch nurses and others to work with families whose loved ones were killed by the massive landslide.

Andy Hamack, of Everett, a 22-year veteran of the Red Cross, said that he has been volunteering almost every day since the mudslide occurred.

Responding to such an emergency in one’s own community, as well as knowing people who were killed, has made it unusually emotional for many.

“Everyone takes this response personally,” Morrison said. “Everyone has friends or friends of friends who are gone or affected.”

Yvonne Smith, of Edmonds, is the lead nurse for the Snohomish County Chapter. Her experience in previous diasters includes volunteering for two weeks following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene in 1999.

“Our community is grieving right now,” she said. “We’ve got people there trying to help with that.”

One of them is MaryAnn Harris, a mental health specialist trained in post-traumatic-stress issues.

Because the communities of Oso, Arlington and Darrington are so emotionally connected, they don’t want a lot of outside help, she said. “They want to help each other. They’re pretty self-sufficient.”

“We’re here to say you don’t have to be self-sufficient,” Harris said. “We’re here to help if you want help. Let us help you.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Resources for grief

Volunteers of America has a 24-hour crisis line that provides mental health referral services. Call 800-584-3578.

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