GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – WOOD TV8 Community Affairs Director, Eva Aguirre Cooper, and her photographer visited the Florida Keys to see the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Airing Wednesday, Nov. 1st at 7:30 p.m., we follow West Michigan Red Cross volunteers, and hear from those hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.
“No amount of training could prepare us for what we saw after stepping off the plane,” Eva said. “We drove for miles and miles along the Florida Keys, and saw devastation everywhere.”
Help was needed, and West Michigan volunteers answered the call.
“When I saw that Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands, it moved me to tears.” said Katherine Neeb. “I knew it was going to hit Florida, the Keys, and I knew it was something I needed to do.”
Eva met Katherine while doing the “Zero to Hero” disaster training through The American Red Cross. Join Neeb and other volunteers by receiving your Red Cross certification through local or online courses.
“The point of doing Zero to Heroes, and even the point of how we set up our entire volunteer process is that anyone can come in and become a volunteer,” said Nikki Salladay, Red Cross Disaster Training Instructor. “Every skill that you have, we can find a way to put you somewhere.”
For some West Michigan volunteers, like Tom Westgate, Hurricane Irma is their second deployment.
“Before Harvey arrived, we were in Victoria, Texas in a FEMA evacuation dome. We were literally there when the hurricane came ashore. We looked out our doors and watched it go by,” said Westgate. “So we were home for two weeks, and then they asked us to come to Hurricane Irma, which is where we’re at now. And we’ve been here ever since.”
Fr. Robert Teszlewicz, a native of Muskegon, volunteered his services through disaster spiritual care. “Most of the time, I’ve found out that people really don’t need you to say anything. They just need you to listen as they tell their story. And that, in itself, is part of the healing process for them.”
“The human spirit is so strong down here. There’s so much resiliency, and people know that they’re going to get through it,” said Nate Carey, another volunteer in Florida, who also leads disaster trainings.
Devastation from the storm is only in the beginning stages of being recovered.
“You’re looking into people’s homes, and they’re gone,” Cooper said. “This is going to take weeks, months, possibly years to rebuild.”
Volunteers are still needed. Visit The American Red Cross of Michigan homepage to find out how you can help today.
“Everybody has something to offer,” said Teszlewicz. “Every single person who sees your broadcast has something that they can offer to people who are victims of a disaster — every single person.”
Join us Wednesday, Nov. 1st, at 7:30 p.m. for our special coverage of “After the Storms… West Michigan responds.”
Find out more from Eva about the trip in the interview above.