By Y. Hope Osborn, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
Most mornings, a shriek pierces my sleep, and I fumble to turn off the alarm. I drag myself out of bed and start my morning routine. Make the bed. Get dressed. Eat oatmeal and orange juice. It’s a Sunday. A day at home. A few chores, and then time off from school work and a writing job. My cat and I spend most of the day resting in the quiet of our home. I feel safe and secure.
In the afternoon, the wailing siren startles me. The wail is a tornado warning.
But it doesn’t look like I should worry. The clouds are flat, pale grey, and quiet. There is no sign of rain. I don’t bother to turn on the news. A movie before bedtime is more enticing. I feel safe and secure.
Thousands of Arkansans started their day the same way, though weather forecasters predicted severe weather for much of the mid-South. Many Arkansans felt safe and secure.
But sirens wailed across the state of Arkansas that afternoon and into the night.
The radio broadcast startles me. Safety and security are suddenly just careless notions. The broadcast is the governor’s speech.
According to the National Weather Service, on April 27, 2014 just after 7 p.m., a few miles away from where I was watching a movie, a super-cell rapidly intensified northwest of Little Rock and dropped a deadly EF4 rated tornado. It thrashed a ½ mile wide swath for 41 miles through the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia before dissipating near El Paso. The tornado destroyed an estimated 400 to 500 homes. 16 fatalities were reported, making it the deadliest single tornado in Arkansas since May 15, 1968.
The next morning, as I listen to the governor requesting and reporting on assistance being given to devastated areas, a passing comment captures my attention. The Red Cross is on the scene providing aid. News outlets across the nation reported on the devastation and aftermath of the tornadoes both in Arkansas and neighboring states on April 27. A few passing words frequently noted the Red Cross’s presence. Before the night was over, the Red Cross drove up the streets of Vilonia and Mayflower in front of people that may have been you and could have been me.
In response to the disaster, the Red Cross “communicated with Emergency Management, deployed team members, opened shelters, supported others and provided assistance to residents affected by the storm as needed. More than 200 people spent Sunday night [the night of the storm] in shelters in Arkansas that were opened or supported by Red Cross workers” (Disaster Update). Because of its staff, donors, partners, and volunteers, the American Red Cross is at places like these across the U.S. 70,000 times a year. One of those times was April 27, 2014 when across Arkansas sirens wailed.
We all go about our lives focused on wrapping up a project at work, preparing a meal at home, or visiting a friend at the coffee shop. Rainy days, fires, and shootings briefly capture our attention only if we watch the 6 o’clock news. We may pause in sadness for a moment, but the dryer buzzes or the dog whines to go out and the brief story and momentary sadness are lost.
Until sirens wail, warning of nearby tornadoes. Or smoke billows, threatening fire from a neighboring home. Or cancer spreads, creating platelet need in a close friend.
The Red Cross is a symbol we see in the background news image of a tent in the foreign land of Haiti after a hurricane. The Red Cross is something we text a donation to in response to a radio blurb of an earthquake on the other side of the country.
Until we become part of a news image or radio blurb. Then the grief is from our image of a blackened shell that we once called home. We haven’t even thought about where to sleep tonight. Then the Red Cross is a symbol you see on a van that drives up your street and parks in front of you.
On that day in April, countless lives were changed by the storm. But by offering shelter, food, supplies, medical attention, counseling, and direction, the Red Cross was there to help them begin picking up the pieces.
Disaster may touch me, but I am comforted by the knowledge that the Red Cross is waiting to provide aid.
Photo credit: Dennis Drenner for the American Red Cross
“Disaster Update: Tornadoes and Severe Weather in KS, MO, AR, OK, TN,” American Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom. 28 April 2014. Web. 9 May 2014.