By Amy LaMar
"Disaster" is the lone headline appearing on the first page of an American Red Cross scrapbook filled with depictions of death, destruction and personal accounts of the June 3, 1980, tornadoes.
Subsequent pages reveal that disaster relief arrived from all over the country, but local American Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers experienced the destruction and relief firsthand.
While it was estimated that 90 percent of the American Red Cross volunteers had at least one family member affected by the tornadoes, more than 4,000 of them assisted in a massive three-week relief effort. In all, 300,000 meals were served and $346,941 was committed to disaster assistance, said Susan Aguilar, director of blood and emergency services at the American Red Cross Central Plains Chapter.
"Knowing an organization like the Red Cross was there to go to and had food available felt like somebody cared," she recalled.
Although Aguilar was not affiliated with the Red Cross at the time, her family lived in Grand Island when the tornadoes struck. She remembers that day vividly.
"It was just unbelievable," she said. "It was like the center of a bomb.
"You don't know where you are, and you can't find anything. It is a feeling of helplessness."
The Red Cross served almost 2,000 victims with food, clothing, household furnishings and medical assistance. Three disaster relief centers were made available as well as 14 vans dispensing sandwiches and beverages.
Although the Salvation Army did not have statistics available, hundreds of volunteers provided food, clothing and counseling to tornado victims, said Nancy Cords, food service manager.
As the head of the Salvation Army Church kitchen at the time, Cords made sandwiches and three hot meals a day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for almost a month. Between 150 and 200 people were served at each meal, she said, in addition to the countless others served by four canteens around town.
The organization also provided clothing, blankets and toiletry items free of charge out of a distribution center at the Grand Island Mall.
"There were semi loads of donations," Cords said.
In the meantime, both organizations' buildings suffered damage. The Red Cross building was damaged so much that employees had to relocate to the basement of the former St. Francis School of Nursing. The Salvation Army was "full of water," Cords said.
But volunteers from both agencies agreed that their hard work was worth it because the victims were grateful for their assistance.
"Most of them were pretty desperate," Carol Scott, former Salvation Army bookkeeper, said about the victims to whom she distributed meal vouchers. "They were all thankful for what they could get."
"Many said that we brought them hope," said Gordon Jensen, a Red Cross volunteer.
To prepare for disasters, the Red Cross suggests the following tips:
- Discuss what to do about power outages and personal injuries.
- Draw a floor plan of your home. Mark two escape routes from each room.
- Learn how to turn off water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
- Post emergency numbers near telephones.
- Teach children how and when to call 911, police and fire.
- Instruct household members to turn on the radio for emergency information.
- Pick two meeting places, a place near your home in case of fire and a place outside of your neighborhood in case you cannot return home after a disaster.
- Take basic first-aid and CPR classes.
- Keep family records in a water - and fireproof container.