Radel travels to Louisiana as Red Cross volunteer in Hurricane Ida relief effort

Deb Moldaschel
Redwood Falls Gazette

Sixteen years ago, when Hurricane Katrina delivered a devastating blow to Louisiana and especially New Orleans, Redwood Fall woman Diane Radel traveled there as an American Red Cross volunteer. Now she is on deployment number 20 as a Red Cross volunteer trained in basic disaster response, part of the Hurricane Ida response team stationed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Red Cross volunteer, Diane Radel of Redwood Falls, is in Louisiana working on relief efforts in communities affected by Hurricane Ida.

Radel left Redwood Falls on Thursday, Sept. 2. Her flight had a one-hour layover in Dallas and then she flew to Baton Rouge, where the airport had just re-opened. "That was good, otherwise we would have had to drive there," she said, when the Gazette caught up with her by phone that evening.

Radel was at the Red Cross headquarter in Baton Rouge when we spoke Thursday evening. "When I got here I registered, had a meal, got my assignment and met my partner," said Radel. She was waiting for the shuttle to Raising Cane's River Center in downtown Baton Rouge, a large event center where the Red Cross shelter is set up. Radel said she likely would be sleeping on a cot there during her two week stay.

According a news story found online, the River Center has electricity—meaning it has air conditioning. The shelter is for residents of the region as well as the Red Cross volunteers.

Leah Pockrandt, Executive Director, American Red Cross serving Southwest Minnesota, told the Gazette that in their Hurricane Ida response the Red Cross is working with partners to set up mobile kitchens capable of preparing tens of thousands of meals.

"In the coming days, those meals will be loaded onto dozens of Red Cross emergency response vehicles and delivered to people in the hardest hit areas struggling to recover," Pockrandt said.

And that is what Radel will be doing in the Baton Rouge region.

"My assignment is in DES (Distribution of Emergency Supplies)," Radel said. She and her partner will load a truck with desperately needed water and MREs (meals ready to eat) and drive to communities to distribute it. "My partner went to a small town in the area Thursday and tomorrow we will work together," she said. Radel thought her assignment would remain the same during her stay, but didn't know for sure.

Radel said an important part of their work is listening to victims who want to talk about their experience and also helping arrange help for those in especially difficult circumstances.

Pockrandt said, "Trained Red Cross volunteers are helping evacuees cope as they await news about whether they will have a home to return to. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, which were left behind in the rush to get to safety. While we don’t typically serve hospitals in Louisiana, the Red Cross has provided 95 blood products to a hospital in Baton Rouge in the aftermath of Ida. We stand ready to support blood product needs in this challenging environment."

"This in an unfolding situation – meaning that our responses and needs change as the damage of this catastrophic hurricane is revealed," Pockrandt said. "We are committed to helping those individuals impacted by Hurricane Ida. The Red Cross will be involved in response and recovery for weeks and months to come."

According to Pockrandt, as of Thursday, there were 25 Minnesota and Dakota Region Red Cross volunteers and staff deployed. Radel is one of three volunteers from the Southwest Minnesota Chapter. The Southwest Minnesota Chapter includes 19 counties.

Pockrandt said the Red Cross needs volunteers who are able to respond to home fires and storms, as well as deploy to assist on disaster responses such as Hurricane Ida. "The American Red Cross could not do the work that we are able to do without dedicated volunteer partners who diligently help deliver the Red Cross mission," she said.

Radel agreed. "We especially need more young volunteers," she said. "Some of us are getting older and this work can sometimes be physically difficult. I have noticed some younger people here and that is good."

As Pockrandt said, Red Cross volunteers don't necessarily respond to big disasters far from home—they are also needed to help local victims of home fires and storms. New volunteers are always welcome and training is provided.

To learn more, visit redcross.org/volunteer or contact: Volunteer Services 612-871-7676 ext. 5 or by email to MNDAKVolunteer@redcross.org.