Volunteer disaster recovery work is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
And sometimes, they do it again and again.
Craig Fleming, 70, of Swansea is one of those guys.
“This is my 12th disaster,” he said Thursday after wrapping up a day’s work surveying flood damage with the American Red Cross in Bastrop County, Texas. In the two weeks he’s been there, Fleming has surveyed damage in five counties.
“What we do is we have two-person teams and we go into areas that have flood damage or tornado damage that have been identified as needing Red Cross assistance,” he said. Following behind Fleming are other Red Cross members providing needed assistance based on the damage assessments Fleming compiles.
“As far as destruction, this was a lot of rain in a hurry,” Fleming said. “And so a lot of the people did not have enough time. (Flood waters) just pushed through their houses.”
It’s bad enough when homes are flooded with as much as two to three feet of water. But an even worse problem, Fleming said, is the aftermath once the water recedes.
“Biggest problem for them is, when the water subsides, getting the home cleaned out before the mold sets in,” he said.
Though work Fleming and the other 2,000 deployed Red Cross volunteers do is independent of work done by other non-profit, federal and local agencies, Fleming said signals don’t get crossed and everyone knows the drill.
Fleming personally knows the drill, too. The dozen disaster relief trips he’s taken in his eight years with the Red Cross include trips to the east coast after Hurricane Sandy, to Texas after Hurricane Ike, to Vermont after Hurricane Irene, to Louisiana after Hurricane Gustav and to North Dakota during a flood of the Souris River Basin.
Fleming said he first became interested in volunteer relief “two or three years after (Hurricane) Katrina.”
“I looked into going down there and helping,” he said. Fleming walked in to the Red Cross office — it was in Fairview Heights, not Swansea, then — to learn more. They no longer needed anyone on the Gulf, staff said. But they could sure use his help anyway.
“Once they get you in the door, they won’t let you leave,” Fleming joked.
“These are people with a servant’s heart,” said Peggy Barnhart, spokeswoman for the Eastern Missouri Red Cross, which also manages Red Cross efforts in the metro-east. But some of those servants may have to set their sights much closer to home. As the remnants of tropical storm Bill bear down on Missouri and Illinois, swollen waterways may push past their banks, giving this region a flood of its own.
Fleming has been keeping en eye on local weather and waterway forecasts, too.
“I’ll be back Saturday,” he said. Just in time for a phone call.
Anyone interested in joining volunteer efforts through the Red Cross can visit their website, www.redcross.org, to begin the registration and training process.