Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 14, 2000

Volunteer Tamara Luhman helps with July's state emergencies

Last month, Tamara Luhman of Howard Lake, member of the Wright County Chapter of the American Red Cross, spent time helping residents of Eagan after strong rains swept through their community July 7 and 8.

In addition to dealing with a lot of water, Eagan's sewer system backed up, sending sewage into people's basements, and sometimes, main floors.

Luhman spent two days, July 11 and 12, in Eagan. She said the first day she was there, she worked on damage assessment. Red Cross volunteers would drive up and down streets, check every house, and rate the damage.

"Most of Eagan was fine, but damage was significant in some neighborhoods," she said. "As we were driving down the streets, we could see peoples' belongings, their lives, laying in their yards and in the streets. Trucks would come and load all these things into dumpsters. Anything that was touched by the sewage was destroyed ­ even if it was plastic ­ because bacteria could get inside of it and grow.

"It smelled so bad, but people were digging through their possessions to salvage anything they could," Luhman continued.

The second day, Luhman worked on outreach. Volunteers went back to the houses that were rated "seriously damaged" or "destroyed" and talked with the homeowners. Some people were devastated, Luhman said, and others seemed resigned to the fact that this is what they had to deal with.

Volunteers explained to the homeowners how the Red Cross could help. During disasters, the American Red Cross provides food, clothing, shelter, and other emergency needs free of charge.

The Red Cross issues "disbursement orders" for these items. They are written to specific merchants and work like a check. Luhman said what they gave the flood victims was "a free gift to the American people from the American people."

The organization also refers families for financial assistance from the government and other organizations.

"The residents of Eagan would only accept what they really needed," Luhman said. "They were good people, and they were good to each other. If they knew of a neighbor who needed assistance, they would tell us."

Luhman said something that was a major problem, and will continue to be a problem, was water heaters.

"Because they were in the basements, a lot of water heaters were destroyed," Luhman said. "This is a problem because people in northwestern Minnesota got hit twice, and then, there was flooding in Eagan and Austin, too. When I left, they were waiting for a call from Washington D.C. to see if the Red Cross could get a deal to help people replace their water heaters."

Luhman, who is a new volunteer for the Wright County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said she had some very draining days, but overall, the experience was very rewarding.

Just as Eagan was picking up the pieces, and July was coming to a close, the Wright County volunteers were called out once again. July 25, a deadly tornado ripped through the community of Granite Falls.

Luhman traveled to Granite Falls, arriving the evening of July 28, and working July 29 and 30. During her time in Granite Falls, Luhman stayed in the Department of Public Safety/Division of Emergency Command trailer.

She said when she drove through the destroyed area, she was "shocked." "There were houses that were gone, there was just a stake with a number on it where the house once stood," she said. "There was insulation and debris everywhere, even hanging from lines.

"There were pictures in the newspaper and on television, but it's hard to imagine unless you saw it for yourself."

Luhman said Saturday, July 29 was incredible. "There were about 3,000 volunteers in a town with about 3,000 residents, so the population was doubled," she said. "It was great to see so many people pull together for one cause."

Both days, Luhman worked in an emergency response vehicle. She passed out water, juice, food, leather gloves, and "whatever was needed." She said other organizations were in Granite Falls helping tornado victims and volunteers, too, including the Salvation Army; and Burger King and a pizza place were handing out free food.

Sunday was much quieter, Luhman said. "It was like a ghost town, almost eerie," she said. "They got a lot done Saturday, and there was hardly anyone there. And people just needed a break, they had been working for days."

Luhman said Granite Falls still needs help, but there is only so much volunteers can do. She said there is so much major structural damage and the work was hard and tiring, but she's glad she had a chance to help.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Wright County Chapter of the American Red Cross, can contact Chapter Chair Jenny Vergin or Disaster Action Team Captain Brenda Conzet at 763-684-0068.

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