|By Natasha Clark|
Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM After doing his part to help Florida residents recover from the destruction of Hurricane Wilma, Scott Chapman made it home just in time for the holidays. He returned home two days before Thanksgiving.
Chapman told Reminder Publications that, after the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District opened its doors to Gulf Coast students victimized by Hurricane Katrina, he wanted to do more.
"I was talking with a friend of mine, Olivia Johnston, and I was saying that I feel like I want to do more," Chapman said.
The duo contacted the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross and participated in Disaster Training.
"We were contacted on the seventh of November. The Red Cross gives you 48 hours notice. So, we left two weeks ago," he explained.
Based at the American Red Cross headquarters in Miami, Chapman and Johnston, both lawyers, were assigned to tasks that the Red Cross thought best suited their abilities Johnston, community service liaison, and Chapman, a government liaison where his work primarily dealt with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the surrounding counties.
"Counties are really important down there," he said. "Everyday they'd have a conference call with 20 different county agencies to say, 'What's today's problem?' and 'How can we help?'"
Putting in up to 12-hour work days, Chapman spent most of his time on the road and at Disaster Recovery Centers where people apply for FEMA benefits.
"I went to a couple of the shelters where people were. There was a lot of tension around the delivery of services," Chapman said. "There are a lot of delays that come with a disaster. Wilma was the strongest hurricane since Andrew in 1992. At its peak it was a Category Five storm. By the time it hit Florida it was a Category Three. It came in from the west and through the Florida Keys and crossed over."
Chapman said he saw a lot of devastation and homes that once had perfect roofs now damaged and covered with blue tarps. He also said that, by the time he left, most homes had power again, but at one time nearly 6 million people were without utilities.
According to Chapman the Red Cross had 105 shelters and housed 35,000 people. The organization also was able to deploy 1,000 Disaster Relief volunteers to the area.
At the time of Chapman's interview with Reminder Publications last week, the Red Cross had served 3.7 million meals in the area.
One of the qualities Chapman said he appreciated about the volunteers deployed there was their demeanor.
"Of everybody I met there, nobody complained. Everybody was helpful," he said.
Volunteers slept in a staff shelter on cots. Chapman said tropical storm Gamma sent another wave of worries through the state. He said they were constantly monitoring the progress of the storm. While there was no hurricane, he said the storm's rain caused even more problems.
"Four or five days ago there was controversy about closing a shelter. People were angry. People had no place to go. You could see the desperation on their faces," Chapman said, adding that what bothered him most was, "seeing all the little kids sleeping on cots. You could tell on their faces they were wondering where they were going, how long they were going to be there. I just hope the piece I did helped move a process along."
Chapman encourages communities to consider getting involved with Disaster Relief work, no matter what their skill.
"The Red Cross trains you, but they know what skills you have and where to put you. A lot of college students were there helping," he said. "My friend and I are lawyers, and they put us with government agencies. They screen people and put them in an appropriate place."
And with hurricanes hitting one after another this season, Chapman was worried people forgot about the victims of Wilma.
"People had hurricane fatigue. [They] want to do something, but fatigue sets in and then they forget," he said.
Though the work days were heavy, Chapman did not complain. He was grateful to have helped.
"It was tiring. Long days were rewarded by you feeling like you were helping," he added.