Cuyahoga Falls resident lends hand post-Sandy

by ellin walsh | REPORTER Published:

She's on a first-name basis with hurricanes -- and wildfires, floods and ice storms don't deter her either.

When disaster strikes and people feel powerless, Fallsite Vicki Gaug responds. Gaug is a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Gaug was moved to help, so she offered her services. The call to lend assistance for Katrina never came, but the Red Cross asked Gaug if she'd remain on the volunteer list. She did -- and has since been deployed in the wake of wild fires in California, floods in Indiana and Minnesota, ice storms in Kentucky and two hurricanes.

She recently returned from New York and New Jersey where the Red Cross and other agencies continued to provide food, health services and emotional support to victims of Hurricane Sandy which hammered the U.S. in October.

A heavy equipment operator by trade, Gaug initially thought the Red Cross would put her to work demolishing structures as part of post-disaster clean-up efforts.

Instead, she's been assigned to an array of tasks from food supervision to manning a warming center and from distributing cleaning supplies to guiding people to housing.

"Unbelievable," is the word Gaug uses to describe some of the hardships she's witnessed.

Deployed to Staten Island in December 2012, Gaug says there were still people living in tents or bedrooms on the second floors of their homes because the first floors were gutted. "They have nowhere else to go," Gaug says, "They've lost almost everything and we're there to see they don't lose one of the last things they have left -- hope."

Bodies were still being discovered in the debris while Gaug was stationed in New York. Months after the hurricane, she says, there were huge apartment complexes without electricity, and buildings in downtown Manhattan running off generators. Many people still could not cook a hot meal, Gaug reports, and issues like the raw sewage that ran through homes were still being addressed. She says mold and contamination made most items which survived Sandy unsalvageable.

Despite the losses, she said people pitched in to help.

At the base in Staten Island, "Things were going as quickly as they were donated," Gaug says, "But every time we were running out of something, people would show up with it."

"You cannot tell me there is no God," Gaug, a Christian, says, "because I saw His hand every day."

She remembers a woman from Canada bringing a vehicle full of supplies to donate. Just then, Gaug says, another woman came in, pushing a stroller. "I gave her diapers, formula, all the baby supplies we had," Gaug says, "and then I asked her if she needed anything else. She leaned forward and put her head down and said softly 'a coat.' The woman from Canada put her arms around this woman and then she took the coat off her own back."

"I've seen such good in people," Gaug says, "in the worst of times."

Gaug wasn't even home from the stint in New York when the Red Cross called, pressing her back into service in New Jersey a few weeks later.

There she addressed heart-breaking housing issues, she says, like the predicament of a 67-year-old woman who uses a walker being assigned to a seventh floor hotel room, where the elevator didn't work. Gaug says the woman was effectively trapped. She couldn't get out to claim her two dogs and was devastated to learn they had been euthanized.

Gaug says it's the small successes, like getting that woman moved to a ground floor room, that gives her comfort now that she's returned home.

Gaug admits it took very little coaxing for the Red Cross to get her to stay a few extra days in New Jersey to wrap up some cases. She's still in touch with the volunteers who took her place.

While she was deployed, someone she'd helped posted Gaug's Red Cross phone number on Facebook. While she appreciated the praise, Gaug said it had some unanticipated consequences.

"I was fielding calls morning and night and the Red Cross was going to issue me a new phone," Gaug says, "And I said, 'Are you kidding? Who do these people have? Look what they've been through. People helping people is what life is all about. I'm keeping this phone.'"

Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9419

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.