Utahns make a road trip to help after Sandy
Volunteers from around the state piled into three American Red Cross vehicles Friday, bound for the East Coast to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The volunteers, who left Utah four days after the storm took the lives of at least 90 people in 10 states, were just the latest Beehive State residents who have been moved to help after seeing images of flooded streets and decimated homes in New York and New Jersey.
Chris Briggs, a volunteer from Sandy who was getting ready to drive one of the Emergency Response Vehicles to the New York area, said he was proud to be part of the solution.
"We're all normal people with everyday lives," said Briggs, who works as a hospice chaplain. "And with preparing, with training, we can be heroes."
Briggs is one of seven people who already have volunteered with the Red Cross locally and have the necessary training to directly help people in the disaster area. Logan Sisam, emergency services director for the Utah Region of the Red Cross, said that since the storm hit, the Salt Lake office already has had 38 people sign up to volunteer, but they'll need weeks of training before they can be deployed. Five volunteers were sent to New York and West Virginia on Tuesday and Wednesday. The greater Salt Lake area has more than 100 trained volunteers on hand, but the national Red Cross, working based on geographic distance, has only called a dozen from Utah so far.
Sisam said that even if people can't volunteer, they can help in other ways. "The biggest impact that they would have is donating," he said.
Other organizations besides the Red Cross also have pitched in this week. Rocky Mountain Power sent 18 people 16 linemen and two managers on a chartered flight of 52 power workers from across the country to help restore power in the New Jersey area. Sandy's devastation has left millions of people without power, and the Rocky Mountain Power employees will work with New Jersey-based FirstEnergy to help get neighborhoods back up and running.
"There's a lot of mutual cooperation," said Rocky Mountain spokeswoman Maria O'Mara. "It's more work than one utility can do."
Bluffdale-based Goal Zero, a solar energy company, also is helping out by donating solar-powered equipment to people affected by the storm.
Goal Zero employees filled a 53-foot trailer with generators that will be used to help charge cellphones, lights and health care equipment for emergency services personnel, according to a company statement. The donation is valued at about $300,000.
During a Friday morning press conference, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon joined local Red Cross leaders to urge Utahns to donate disaster relief efforts. Corroon said his office has received many calls from people asking how to help. The best way is a donation, he said.
"We know the money will go to the right purposes," he said.
Corroon said his mother's property on Long Island was damaged during the storm and that phone communication in the area is still down, although he has been in touch with his family through e-mail.
Julia Wulf, CEO of Red Cross Blood Services in the Salt Lake region, said the organization also is in dire need of blood, as the storm has canceled about 360 blood drives on the East Coast, leading to a shortage of about 12,000 units of blood.
"Your blood is more important than ever," Wulf said, asking people to participate in blood drives in Utah.
How to help
County officials are urging people to donate to the American Red Cross, saying the nonprofit is the most efficient at getting resources straight to those who need them.
A quick $10 donation will go straight to the Red Cross through your mobile phone by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999.
Sandy also has affected blood donations. So far, 360 blood drives from the region have been canceled, and some 12,000 units of blood are needed to make up the loss. A list of local blood drives can be found at UtahRedCross.org.