By Jarrett Barrios, Los Angeles Region CEO
Lead photo courtesy of the Mercury News
With much of Red Cross’ focus during the second half of 2017 honing in on the large-scale recovery and relief efforts associated with the hurricanes and wildfires that wreaked havoc on California, the Southeast U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, here in the Los Angeles Region we’ve been fortunate enough to regroup and set our sights on our lofty Sound the Alarm goal of installing 3,000 free smoke alarms between April 21 and May 12, 2018. However, just because volunteers who deployed to assist with the aforementioned relief efforts have returned to their daily roles of responding to home fires and helping LA become better prepared for any type of emergency or disaster, it doesn’t mean we have to take a back-seat to lending a hand with large-scale relief efforts, when needed.
In early February, one of the most intense tropical cyclones in recent history, Tropical Cyclone Gita, set its sights on the South Pacific—including American Samoa. Homes were destroyed and damaged and the torrential winds left much of the population without power.
Just as locations like Mammoth Mountain and Inyo County are part of the geographic area covered by the Los Angeles Region, American Samoa is a part of the geographic area covered by the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties. With the San Diego Region leading the efforts, the Red Cross headed into the affected areas to provide assistance to families affected by Tropical Cyclone Gita. More than 2,400 emergency supplies like tarps, flashlights and comfort kits were distributed and additional supplies, such as clean-up kits and mosquito nets, were also made available to those impacted. Additionally, and in the true spirit of the mission of the Red Cross, disaster workers deployed to conduct damage assessments and open a Red Cross Service Center to provide casework for families who endured major damage or suffered from the complete loss of a home.
From our Region, Chiamaka Okeke and Raini Hatchett deployed to American Samoa. Preliminary reports indicated that, with their help, close to 15 percent of the population received Red Cross support or assistance. Here in LA, Chiamaka is a Preparedness Lead based out of Long Beach. She is also an Americorps Members whose responsibilities include teaching students in third through fifth grade emergency preparedness with the Disney Pillowcase Project and assisting individuals and families affected by home fires in the Long Beach area. Raini joined our team of volunteers just after Hurricane Harvey, in the fall of 2017. She is a Mass Care Expert and Recovery Team member. Included among her specialties are feeding and sheltering. She is also an experienced Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer within our Metro-LA territory.
In American Samoa, the American Samoan government (Dept. of Education) provides shelter to evacuees. The Red Cross supported relief efforts through distributing emergency supplies and providing casework to families whose homes were majorly damaged or destroyed. Both Chiamaka and Raini have been assisting on the client casework front—helping individuals and families impacted create a recovery plan and providing referrals for essential services. I am grateful that Chiamaka and Raini could be there to assist in this capacity, with these vital Tropical Cyclone Gita relief efforts.
Most certainly, Tropical Cyclone Gita is another reminder that emergencies, both large and small, can occur at anytime and anywhere. It is best that all of us continue to remain educated and well prepared. In this regard, I encourage you to download the free Red Cross Emergency App, which places Red Cross emergency preparedness and safety tips with you at all times, no matter how far your travels may take you.
The app is available in app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.
Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region.
To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org