Red Cross volunteers aid in Gustav relief efforts

PLATTSBURGH Though Hurricane Gustav created less devastation to the Gulf Coast than originally expected this week, three North Country men were standing by in the event of a major natural catastrophe. Philip Welch of West Chazy, Karl Costin of Plattsburgh and Jamie Bonner of Malone were deployed last Saturday to New Orleans in anticipation of the damaging winds and precipitation to the Louisiana coastline. The three shared their thoughts on their mission before their departure, each motivated to help in any way they could. The mission is the sixth deployment for Welch, who is the veteran of the group with seven years volunteering for the Red Cross. He had already been deployed to Louisiana three times in the past, with efforts for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Lili. Welchs desire to volunteer stemmed from the Ice Storm of 1998, which paralyzed the North Country for several days and caused power outages that lasted weeks in some areas. Despite the desperate conditions, Welch said there was hope thanks to organizations like the Red Cross. It was a profound experience, Welch said. You could see how much on the receiving end it was appreciated. This is just the opportunity to do something to give back. You really do get a great feeling from it, he added. Costin said this is his third year as a Red Cross volunteer and his third deployment, having served before in Louisiana and the Virgin Islands. He serves as lead volunteer chair, handling local efforts for coordinating staff services in the event of an emergency. One of his jobs with the organization is similar to that of Bonner, who is an after-hours case worker and on-call responder. Bonner has been with the Red Cross for five years, with this being his fourth deployment. The knowledge we bring back to the chapter is invaluable, said Costin. If we do have a disaster in our area, well be able to help out and be more efficient in the field. If it was me, Id want somebody to help, said Bonner. Jeanie D. Roberts, executive director of the North Country chapter of the American Red Cross, said the three men were deployed as part of a nationwide American Red Cross initiative to have more than 3,000 volunteers in place prior to the storm. We learned a lot of lessons after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, said Roberts. The idea is that we have people on the ground before the storm hits so that the recovery can start immediately. The early deployment was a new idea based off past difficulties of flying volunteers into devastated areas, said Roberts. Even in areas such as the North Country, such a measure can mean saving valuable time, she said. When airports are closed, it becomes quite a challenge,said Roberts. When we had the Ice Storm, the Red Cross had people flying into Syracuse to get to Plattsburgh. It took time. Though Hurricane Gustav was downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 1 within days, damages to homes and businesses as well as strains on municipal infrastructure across the coastline were felt. According to reports, nearly two million people were evacuated and were expected to begin returning by the end of the week. Welch, Costin and Bonner are expected to remain in Louisiana for the next two to three weeks to help where needed. Their assignments, said Welch, will range anywhere from distributing food and water to giving directions to mopping floors. Whatevers needed, he said.

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