Red Cross Busy in U.S.
Tornadoes, floods plague southern states this spring
UPDATE: May 23 — More deadly weather swept across the south this weekend. On Sunday, Joplin, Missouri, was struck by a massive tornado that flattened homes, caused fires, and killed 116 people as of Monday afternoon, according to CNN.
The city of 48,000 had only a 24-minute warning that a tornado was coming, according to the New York Times. The tornado ripped through Joplin with 166-mile-per-hour winds. When the storm ended, it left 25 per cent of the town damaged in a one-mile-wide, four-miles-long path of destruction.
"It is very rare to get a tornado like this, but it is even more rare to get a tornado like this in a highly populated area like Joplin," National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Cramer told the New York Times.
The Joplin tornado is the latest deadly storm to hit the southern United States. Parts of the Mississippi River region have been dealing with some of the worst flooding in decades in the wake of heavy rainfalls and melting snow. And in April, a severe storm front swept through the south, touching off hundreds of tornadoes, including one that destroyed parts of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the American Red Cross gives aid to victims and helps with the resulting relief efforts. The Red Cross is currently fully engaged in helping the affected states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
"The highest priority after a disaster strikes is to sustain life," said Ruben Brown, Media Relations Specialist for the Metro Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross in Atlanta, Georgia. "We need to search for and rescue people and then provide those in need with food, water, and shelter."
A disaster of this size can't be handled by one organization, so many groups work together. Local, state, and federal governments as well as other emergency organizations help out.
"The Emergency Management Agencies of the respective states, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and community partners like churches have all played really important roles in providing service," Brown told Scholastic News.
Search and rescue, relief efforts, and other services provided by the Red Cross for the current weather related disasters in the south may be going on for some time. Waters were still rising along the Mississippi early this week as people in communities up and down the massive waterway stacked sand bags and built temporary levees to keep the water from their homes.
Others are still digging out from under the rash of tornadoes that struck in the previous weeks leading up to the Mississippi floods.
"You have to keep in mind that the storms that impacted these states were not typical spring and summer storms," Brown said. "These are what you call super cell thunderstorms, and we aren't accustomed to seeing those in the Southeast. With the amount of damage the states have had to endure, it will certainly be a matter of months, if not years, before we are done."
Red Cross recovery workers go into the disaster areas and set up shelters for the homeless along with mobile feeding units. They distribute meals ready to eat, toiletries, baby formula, and other items needed for immediate survival. The Red Cross also has many trained volunteers who help provide damage assessment, shelter, and food.
Red Cross activities are supported by donors who give money and by adult volunteers. Donations go to support relief efforts of various disasters around the world, including the one going on currently in the U.S.
"It costs money to train volunteers and to transport them, stock warehouses, and be ready with meals ready to eat," Brown said. "That's why we need the public's continued support."
The American Red Cross also helps with prevention by publishing safety tips.
"You need to know the type of weather that can occur in your area," Brown said. "You need to know the difference between a watch [a tornado might occur] and a warning [a tornado has been spotted]."
If there is a warning, take shelter, stay away from windows, be on a lower level, cover your head, and make sure you are in a strong and sturdy building, he said.
For more safety tips and information on how to donate or volunteer, you can check out the Red Cross website.
Story updated May 23 with information about the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, on May 22.
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