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Volunteers Answer the Call for Help in Midwest


THE REGION — The water swept into Carrollton, Mo., like a monstrous force, toppling tall oak trees, flooding quaint homes and turning cornfields into riverbeds.

Torrential rains in the Midwest had pounded Carrollton for days before La Canada Flintridge volunteer Deane Winant arrived at the American Red Cross service center in the small town.

First, the 59-year-old truck driver got a tetanus shot to ward off potential problems from contaminated water and the bite of copperhead snakes that had scrambled to higher ground. Then Winant faced the enemy.

The view from the Route 10 highway bridge was bewildering. The Missouri River, usually 10 miles away, had made its way into town. The water, brown and smelly, was a fast-moving life force that had crested at nearly 40 feet--Winant could tell from the water mark left on the trees.

"I had never really considered water, what it could wreak as far as devastation," Winant said. "That's the one thing that really comes home to me."

Winant is one of several Red Cross volunteers from the San Gabriel Valley area who put their jobs or lives on hold to help Midwest flood victims.

The rising waters have left thousands without shelter, caused more than $10-billion damage and killed at least 41 people. Nearly 7,000 Red Cross workers are assisting in the hardest hit areas in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The volunteers, all of whom have had extensive training and previous disaster-aid experience, get no salary. The Red Cross pays for expenses and air fare, and arranges lodging.

The need in the Midwest is so great that Red Cross officials in the San Gabriel Valley are calling all of their 2,460 trained volunteers to see who is available for at least 21-day assignments. Officials estimate that volunteers will be needed through mid-September.

Whenever veteran Red Cross volunteers hear about a major disaster somewhere in the world, they know their telephone is likely to ring. Some even keep bags packed and rearrange their work schedule or vacation days so they can be ready to go.

"It's a hobby, it's a recreation, but it's a great opportunity to help people," said Red Cross spokeswoman Robin McCarthy of the San Gabriel Valley Chapter in Pasadena. "They have this opportunity to help victims of a disaster whose lives have been turned upside-down."

When Winant helped people recover from Typhoon Omar in Guam last year, the lines at the Red Cross center were long and steady. In Missouri, most victims--especially sturdy farm families--are reluctant to seek help, he said.

"There's a certain inner strength that's amazing," Winant said. "By and large, you get farmers here, and they're hard working, period. You learn that they are very hearty. They're survivors."

El Monte volunteer Joe Bautista faced the same resistance.

Iowa River floodwaters had submerged the Mesquakie Indian Settlement by the time he arrived--the knee-high ceremonial corn was underwater. So was the sacred burial ground.

The settlement, perched on the riverbanks near the central Iowa town of Tama, had one foot in the future and one in the past--a casino was the tribe's major source of income, but people still got by with septic tanks and wells. No one there was quite sure how to go about getting help; the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and Federal Emergency Management Agency each thought the other was in charge of the Mesquakies.

That's where Bautista stepped in. The 59-year-old volunteer helped arrange a town meeting so 163 families that were forced from their homes by the ravaging floods would know how to find temporary shelter, food and clothes.

"I just thank the Lord that I'm here," said Bautista, who is on indefinite assignment in Bettendorf, Iowa. "The devastation is tremendous . . . People are working so hard trying to sandbag. There is no way they can sandbag everybody."

Bautista, a four-year Red Cross volunteer, spent eight weeks last year helping victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida.

The Red Cross will not send untrained volunteers to the Midwest. But to become a future volunteer or to donate money to flood victims, call: (818) 799-0841.

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