By Peg Taylor, Red Cross Volunteer
When disaster strikes, the Red Cross and partners are quick to respond by providing evacuees with motel lodging, food and other support. However, once sheltered and safe, the common concern among evacuees is, “What do we do now? What’s next?”
There are often many questions about how to take the next steps needed to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Many of those questions can be answered at a Local Assistance Center (LAC).
LACs are opened to assist people with recovery from disasters and provide a wide variety of services in one place. County, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, are available to assist residents with accessing information about homeowner’s insurance, steps to rebuilding their homes, community and social services, replacing vital records that may have been lost, and a number of other services.
The American Red Cross is an active participant at LACs and provides mental health services, health services, emotional and spiritual care, plus Individual Assistance funds for clients whose homes were destroyed or damaged.
For those who are allowed to return to their property to search for belongings, we also hand out wildfire kits that include heavy work gloves, tarps, rakes shovels, masks and other items needed to search through rubble.
Evacuees lined up early on September 22 at the LAC in Oroville which was opened to assist people affected by the North Complex West Zone. Many had recently evacuated from their homes in Berry Creek, a small, isolated community in the hills about 20 miles up the mountain from Oroville.
The look of disbelief was clear on the faces of the people lined up to receive help. The Red Cross had provided motel lodging and meals to many in line, but they were housed in cities across the region and had lost contact with others from their community.
They used the time in line to catch up with neighbors from Berry Creek and shared stories and information about what was still standing in their community. They grieved the loss of their little town as they learned of destroyed buildings and businesses.
Evacuees told stories of leaving their homes in the middle of the night with little warning. One man recalled having to lie in a creek while the fire storm burned over the top of him. Others told stories of rescuing people who were stranded with no transportation.
Rickie described his hilltop home as “tranquility at its finest” and apologized for crying. He and his uncle were only alive because they took shelter in a 5,000-gallon water tank on his property while the fire burned through. His home was destroyed, and Rickie was interested in gathering information from agencies at the LAC that will help him learn how to rebuild is home and his life.
Nyda, a long-time resident, spoke of leaving the home her father had built 50 years ago and described the beautiful woodwork and stained glass in the home. The home is gone now, but Nyda is relieved to still have a water supply and is hoping to rebuild. She was unsure if her insurance would cover the total cost of rebuilding and hoped to get some answers and guidance during her visit to the LAC.
As they left the LAC, evacuees indicated that many of their questions had been answered and they felt more at ease that they would be able to eventually get back on their feet. They picked up wildfire kits from the Red Cross truck and returned to their motel lodging, ready to take the next steps necessary to move forward with their lives.
It is due to the generosity of donors that the Red Cross can assist people during some of their darkest days. The Red Cross and communities across northern California thank our donors for their generous support.
If you would like to support Red Cross disaster response efforts, please visit redcross.org/donate to make a donation.