RI Red Cross members deploy to Texas for Harvey recovery

The emergency response vehicle for the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Red Cross (Photo: Steph Machado | WPRI 12)

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Susan Roberts, the executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Red Cross, packed her bags to fly out of T.F. Green Airport Monday afternoon into the middle of a disaster: flooding and wreckage left behind by Hurricane Harvey’s wrath over the weekend.

“They’re telling us to stay for a long haul — and to be prepared to be there for about 14 days,” she said.

Ten members from the Rhode Island chapter are deploying to Texas to help in recovery efforts. Some flew out over the weekend; Roberts headed out Monday. Roberts said her position will be to act as a liaison between FEMA and local government officials.

But first, she actually has to get to flood-covered Houston. Both airports — George W. Bush Intercontinental, and Houston Hobby Airport — are under water. “They’re going to have me fly into Austin, and then it’s my understanding that the Air National Guard will helicopter me into Houston — so that we can begin this long, tedious process of recovery,” she said.

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Christian Delacruz and Tom Peters will have an even longer journey, as they drive an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Providence to Texas.

“Mainly, it’s a feeding operation,” said Peters, who has been with the Red Cross for 17 years, first as a staffer and then as a volunteer after retirement. “We’re going to go in every day, twice a day, and load up with food.”

The ERV has a serving window where Delacruz and Peters will distribute meals; the truck can hold 300 meals in sealed red containers, plus snacks and even some creature comforts like donated Mickey Mouse stuffed animals for kids.

Peters has taken the ERV on a lot of trips, including to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

“Katrina was a real disaster,” Peters said. “Oh my gosh, people came running when we went down the street. They came running for food.”

Delacruz is heading on his first deployment as a Red Cross volunteer, and will be driving the ERV. He said he’ll be missing the start of the new school year at CCRI.

“Whether it’s two weeks, three weeks or four weeks, however long we’re needed out there is what we’ll do,” Delacruz said. “I know what it’s like to have nothing, and I know what it’s like to get the help that you need.”

Many people were trapped as their homes flooded in Houston and the surrounding areas, and were rescued by boat. Highways are under water. Building flood barriers were breached.

“Yesterday was just torrential downpours the entire day,” said Kevin Dunn, a Narragansett native who now lives in The Woodlands, north of Houston. His home has not flooded, unlike many around him. “I was just saying how amazed I am that we haven’t been completely flooded yet here,” Dunn said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Monday.

Dunn said his neighborhood has come together to collect and donate clothing and supplies to a local shelter.

Susan Roberts, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Red Cross. (WPRI-TV)

Amid the horrific conditions, Roberts said she’ll be sleeping in shelters with rescued Houstonians — 21 of them had been set up as of Monday morning, she said, but: “That’s changing constantly as people are getting out of those homes… As they’re getting them out, they need a place to stay, they can’t go back home — they’re underwater.”

The best way to help the Red Cross is to donate money. Cash is easier to turn into a variety of supplies and needs; the organization discourages the donation of clothing and other supplies because they don’t have the means to ship it all where it needs to go.