All in a day’s work
Residents put their skills to use in the south
Planning is what Craig resident Dan Bingham does. And, it’s a skill he’s putting to use managing resources for hurricane victims in Baton Rouge, La.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s at times very overwhelming. We have to make decisions that will really impact people down the road.”
Bingham, a Tri-State Generation and Transmission planner, left Aug. 29 with vague orders. He was sent to the Gulf Coast by the American Red Cross to handle “mass care” following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Bingham is also an emergency medical technician.
His responsibilities have grown and become further defined since he left. As his wife, Lynn, describes it, Bingham is told there’s a need — cots, food, shelter spaces — and he tracks what’s available and allocates it.
Bingham is part of an eight-member shelter management team that coordinates the needs of all the shelters in Louisiana — 154 shelters housing 60,000 people. That number is expected to exceed 70,000 before it starts to decline.
“They’re still finding people,” he said. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve seen this country go through in my entire life. It’s heartwarming.”
On Wednesday, he contracted laryngitis from spending so much time on the phone.
He said communication has been the biggest problem. Downed phone and power lines have made getting accurate information difficult.
“Every day we see progress,” he said. “It’s slow.”
Bingham was slated to return Tuesday, but has asked for a week-long extension, which Tri-State granted.
“It fits in with all his skills,” said Bill Johnston, Bingham’s immediate supervisor.
Bingham had enjoyed two weeks of a three-week vacation when the hurricane hit. He has enough accrued time off to cover the time he’ll spend in Louisiana.
Lynn is able to keep in touch with her husband often enough to allay her concerns, but said she’s gone as long as three days without a telephone call because of service interruptions or because the circuits are so busy.
“I know he’s doing well and they’re taking care of him,” she said. “It’s been kind of rough on him. They’re working long days.”
She’s waiting until he gets home to hear the details of his service.
“It can get pretty emotional because when you look at the devastation these people went through, it’s hard not to be emotional,” she said. “He’s holding up.”
Bingham is working alongside rescue workers who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centers.
“They tell him there is life after this and that you can’t hold it all in,” Lynn said.
It’s been difficult, Bingham said, because there are emotional lows and highs.
“I will always be affected by this,” he said. “I know there’s a God in this town because I’ve seen him working today. Everyday miracles happen.”
The couple has three adult children who weren’t surprised to see their father go.
“They know him well enough that it’s not a big surprise,” Lynn said. “He’s always been community-oriented. He’s always trying to help.”
It’s a small world
Two other Craig residents were sent south by the Red Cross. Where they are and what they’re doing now is anyone’s guess.
“We’re not getting information on the volunteers who are already deployed,” said Ken Williams, spokesman for the Centennial Chapter of the Red Cross. “Our focus is on getting more volunteers out there.”
They’re not the sole Northwest Colorado representatives serving on the frontlines of this disaster.
Craig resident Steve Walls works for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs helping those with disabilities find employment and working with employers to help accommodate disabled employees.
He was asked Wednesday night whether he was willing to leave this morning to search vacant buil-dings and homes for wheelchairs, walkers and other items needed by victims with disabilities.
He thinks it will be a scavenger hunt.
“I’ve been gnawing at the bit watching what was happening on TV and wanting to help,” he said.
He had seconds to make the decision, and seconds was all it took.
He was told he’d be going to one of four states. He’s since learned he’ll go to Mississippi. His departure was delayed until Monday, and he expects to spend two weeks helping.
“It depends on what’s needed when I get there,” he said.
Walls said he’s not clear about what his exact assignment will be but is willing to wash dishes, serve food or dig fencepost holes.
“Whatever’s needed,” he said.
Walls is married and has two boys ages 5 and 7. Until he knew he was leaving, he sheltered them from newscasts about the effects of the hurricane. After he knew he’d be leaving, he let them watch so they’d understand where he was going and why.
“They said ‘we’ll miss you, but it looks like they need some help,'” Walls said.
Walls was told he will receive inoculations when he arrives in Mississippi and to pack for the outdoors.
“We’ll probably be sleeping outside and working outside,” he said.
Three Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig nursing program graduates also have volunteered to help victims — Julie McFadden, Eve Stephenson and Melissa Uchitelle-Rogers.
“There are quite a few people from Craig helping,” said Delaine Voloshin with the Colorado Workforce Center.
“My heart goes out to the victims.”
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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