Volunteers head to storm-damaged gulf

Medi-Flight crews and American Red Cross volunteers left Modesto last week for the hurricane-swept Gulf Coast region.

Medi-Flight's Modesto base has sent two flight crews and one helicopter to areas affected by Hurricane Ike. Each crew has a nurse, paramedic and pilot. The crews, who left Wednesday for a one-week assignment, were scheduled to help with hospital evacuations of critical care patients from the coastal areas, said Stephen Crabtree, Medi-Flight's medical education coordinator.

Crews included pilots John Miller and John Dias, paramedics Steve Hartwig and Vida Porcelli, and nurses Eden DuPont and Barbara Murphy. All are from Modesto except Murphy, who is from Merced.

Eight Red Cross volunteers left for Texas over the weekend, said Rebecca Ciszek, executive director of the organization's Stanislaus County chapter.

"Conditions are tough out there," she said. "There are hardships for our volunteers and for the people they're serving."

Five Red Cross volunteers who were helping people fleeing Hurricane Gustav likely will be shifted to help those dealing with Hurricane Ike.

Most of the volunteers are in Texas, Ciszek said. Some are in Louisiana. Volunteers were told to take a sleeping bag, hand-cranked radio and water- purification tablets to help stay safe in the difficult conditions, which are "very much like those during Katrina," Ciszek said.

One volunteer is helping displaced people connect with family members. Others are delivering food to needy neighborhoods. A local nurse is providing health services and others are helping with shelter and meals.

The American Red Cross has provided more than 850,000 meals in this relief effort, said Ciszek. The agency is still looking for volunteers to deploy. Volunteers must attend an eight-hour training session and be available for at least 21 days.

Ciszek said many people are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Gustav, including more than 100,000 who are still without power.

"We go on with our merry lives," she said. "But this is still quite devastating for the people who live in those areas."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.