Volunteers work through the night to support families affected by tornadoes

Publié: 24 mai 2013 11:07 CET

By Claudia Marquina and Catherine Kane, IFRC

Following the devastation caused by tornadoes that swept across the Midwest of the United States since 18 May, the American Red Cross is helping people with shelter, food, relief supplies and emotional comfort. The most recent tornado on 21 May tore through a 17-mile path, leaving 24 people dead and at least 237 injured, according to authorities. About 2,400 homes were damaged in the Oklahoma cities of Moore and Oklahoma City, and some 10,000 people were directly affected by the tornado.

As of midweek, more than 300 Red Cross disaster workers in Oklahoma have shelters, kitchens and emergency aid stations open where people can find a safe refuge, food and snacks, emotional support, relief supplies, health care services and information about what other help is available. An additional 30 emergency response vehicles are distributing food and relief supplies in the affected neighbourhoods. The Red Cross is working with Save the Children and Children’s Disaster Services, visiting shelters, community centres, churches and after-school programmes to assist with the needs of children in the community.

The Moore community in Oklahoma, which was worst hit, has faced three devastating tornadoes in the last 15 years. According to the Red Cross, the physical devastation is mirrored by an emotional response that can profoundly affect daily life, making psychosocial support especially important as families begin to clean up.

Harold Brooks, Vice President for International Operations, notes that the people of this area have a culture of preparedness, forged through experience and demonstrated through strong building standards. “When the strongest tornado in fifty years rips through, it’s hard to overcome the sheer power of Mother Nature,” he said.

Early warnings gave people 36 minutes to get to safe shelters, a substantive increase over the average time of 14 minutes. Brooks says that since people heeded the warnings and got out of harm’s way, lives were saved.

In the communities, American Red Cross chapters collaborate, plan and prepare with their communities, partnering with government, other not for profit organizations and the private sector. These partnerships are a smart way to help their communities become more resilient and to recover more quickly.

Brooks, currently in Geneva for the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, spoke enthusiastically about the newly-launched Global Disaster Preparedness Centre, established by the American Red Cross in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is a free, multi-lingual knowledge-sharing and learning hub. It provides tools such as the American Red Cross tornado app – which itself grew out of a project by the British Red Cross. Brooks said the disaster preparedness centre could provide a model for 21st century disaster preparation. “It is a place where knowledge is simple, available and free; one that leads the way to a more resilient planet,” he said.