Category Archives: disasters

Still no way to get messages to Puerto Rico, even as new hams arrive

Ham radio operator wearing Amateur Radio Emergency Service safety vestA group of 50 volunteer amateur (ham) radio operators from the U.S. mainland are on their way to Puerto Rico, to provide much-needed communications at Red Cross shelters there. But even after they arrive and set up, there still will probably be no way to get messages to the island.

The mission of the ham radio operators that the American Radio Relay League (ARRL, the national association for amateur radio) is deploying will be to send information from the island, according to an email message from ARRL staff member Steve Ewald. Specifically, they’ll send information about the welfare of survivors, so worried family members on the mainland will finally know their loved ones are OK.

But no one will contact those families directly.

As the survivor data reaches the mainland, other volunteers will enter it into the Red Cross “Safe and Well” database, where family members around the world will be able to access it via the web.

So, as I wrote in an earlier blog post, the only resource for worried family members remains checking the Safe and Well web site. If a Puerto Rico resident is not listed, family members can only check again the next day, and the next. After newly deployed hams get in place and start sending survivor data off the island, the number of survivors listed on that website should grow quickly.

Advice for worried families after hurricanes and other disasters

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico
NASA satellite image of Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico

I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a loved one on an island that’s struck by a major hurricane. The worry must be terrible.

Because I’m an amateur (ham) radio operator, I have received requests from strangers who are desperate for help getting welfare inquiries through to places like Dominica and Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck.

Based on my years of experience in emergency response (including disaster response) and emergency communications. I have some words for such people that I hope will be helpful.

First, it’s important to remember that absence of communication does not mean that your loved one has been harmed. In most cases it means only that the disaster’s survivors temporarily have no way to tell you that they’re OK. So, as hard as it might be, maintain hope.

In the absence of other means of communication, one of the few things a distant family can do is search the Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” website.

Second, in the absence of other means of communication, one of the few things a distant family can do is search the Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” website. For a number of reasons, that’s an imperfect answer, but it’s often the only option. The site does not allow families to send inquiries into affected areas. It does, however, allow them to see if a survivor has added himself or herself to the “safe and well” list. Of course, survivors can do so only if a.) they have access to the internet and b.) they know about the website.

In many cases, ham radio operators like myself are present in disaster-struck areas. It’s logical to believe that a ham outside the disaster area can help people learn if their loved ones are safe. There are some important things, however, that such people might not realize.

Any hams who lived through the disaster (e.g. hurricane landfall) must first deal with the immediate needs of their own households before they can be of help to others. This includes obtaining necessary medical care, shelter, food, etc. Depending on the intensity of the disaster, this could take considerable time.

Likewise, a hurricane can destroy the external antennas a ham needs to communicate with the outside world. Assuming the ham has the necessary materials, he or she can build a temporary antenna, but this can also take time.

Ham radio equipment requires electricity. As I write this, the entire island of Puerto Rico is without commercial power. Except for solar or wind-powered systems, the only electricity available is coming from privately owned generators (typically fueled by gasoline). Any ham who lives on the island and doesn’t have such a power source is off the air (or will be, after batteries die). And hams who have generators can operate their radios only as long as the generators’ fuel lasts. Finding fuel could be a challenge, with roadways blocked by trees and gasoline stations lacking power for pumps.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that there are hams on Puerto Rico whose homes and antennas survived the storm, whose families need no assistance and who have plenty of emergency electricity. It still might not be possible for these hams to receive inquiries from worried families on the U.S. mainland. Why? I’m sorry to say, that they might well have more important things to do with their radios.

In such disasters, ham radio operators are often busy for a time passing emergency and other urgent messages. An ambulance is needed here. A rescue team is needed there. Supplies are needed at that shelter. Such messages can completely occupy local hams for days after a disaster. They have no choice but to reject incoming welfare inquiries until all the emergency and urgent communication is handled.

Next, ham radio channels become busy with outgoing welfare messages. That’s what I was hearing on the radio today. Hams I heard in Puerto Rico were completely tied up sending messages off the island for their neighbors. It was one message after another, without a break for inquiries to flow to the island.

Eventually, the local hams will catch up and be able to accept incoming messages. Just as eventually, telephone and internet service will become available to survivors.

In the interim, difficult as it is, worried families need patience and hope.

Reports of Maria’s devastation on Dominica arrive via ham radio

Check out this recording of amateur (ham) radio operator Frans van Santbrink (J69DS) in St. Lucia relaying reports from fellow hams on the island of Dominica as the eye of Hurricane Maria strikes.

This VOIP Hurricane net is a hybrid, radio/internet service for which I volunteer as a net control station (i.e. conference call moderator). It’s main mission is to relay such reports to the U.S. National Hurricane Center to aid in the development of forecasts and warnings.

 

Georgia tornado relief volunteer need increases

Operation Blessing Albany, Georgia tornado relief
Operation Blessing photo

The people of Albany, Georgia continue to need volunteer assistance to recover from last week’s tornado outbreak. One of my favorite relief organizations sent today the email message below, which explains why the need for volunteers from outside the area has increased. Please share this information with any congregations or others who might be interested in helping.

Operation Blessing International Logo

IMPORTANT: Please note that if you need lodging, please do not leave your home until you have received a CONFIRMED RESERVATION. Our field team cannot accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION

DEAR OB VOLUNTEERS,
As we move into “Week 2,” we often refer to it as “Phase 2,” because the local volunteer response begins to drop dramatically as businesses reopen, schools reopen and residents return to work. These factors significantly lower our volunteer numbers, which means that we need out-of-town volunteers even more now. We are writing you today to ask you to consider bringing a team to help us help these precious residents over the next 2 – 3 weeks.

VOLUNTEER INFORMATION:
Operation Blessing is accepting volunteers daily at 8:00 AM (Monday – Saturday) at New Birth Fellowship Church in Albany, GA. We have two orientation times each day. Orientation begins at 8:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Operation Blessing will provide everything you need – work assignments, tools, and lunch. All we ask is that you provide your own transportation to and from the work sites. No reservations are needed for daily volunteers.

New Birth Fellowship Church
2106 Radium Springs Road
Albany, GA
Onsite Volunteer Line: 757.374.0944

Volunteer Housing NOW OPEN (CONFIRMED Reservation is Required): Operation Blessing provides FREE volunteer housing in Albany. Operation Blessing will provide your lodging, meals, tools and work assignments, free of charge. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to and from the worksite each day. Volunteers must be 18 years old or older and serve in teams of at least 2 people. To get more information and to register for volunteer housing, please contact our National Volunteer Manager, Trudy Rauch, at 757.226.3407 or send your name, phone number, date you would like to come and number of volunteers in your team to volunteer@ob.org. We will call you back within 24-48 hours. We require that all volunteers needing overnight housing register 24-48 hours in advance. Please make sure you receive your email confirmation before heading to Albany because our field teams will not be able to accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION.

Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteers are needed to help residents sort their belongings to keep what is salvageable, help with debris removal (a lot of wheelbarrow work), chainsaw crews, serving and preparing meals in our mobile kitchen and installing tarps on damaged roofs.

Please feel free to call me with any questions you have and to register your team for overnight volunteer housing.

Sincerely,
Trudy

Trudy Rauch
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager
U.S. Disaster Relief
Operation Blessing International
977 Centerville Turnpike | Virginia Beach, VA 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|
fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike virginia beach, va 23463
office: 
(757) 226-3407| fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

 

Louisiana flood victims still need volunteer support

Damage in a Louisiana home from the August, 2016 flood. Operation Blessing photo
Damage in a Louisiana home from the August, 2016 flood. Operation Blessing photo

You might not have thought much lately about the disastrous flooding that hit Louisiana August 12-14. You might have assumed that now, three weeks later, the communities there have recovery pretty much in hand. You’d be wrong.

Operation Blessing photo
Operation Blessing photo

Today, Christian relief organization Operation Blessing put out a new plea for volunteer assistance in Louisiana. As you’ll read, the organization is even prepared to provide lodging for volunteers who travel from outside the area.

Please share this information with anyone you know who might be able to help.

Dear OB Volunteer:

More than 1,500 volunteers have already joined the effort to help and restore hope following the catastrophic floods in Louisiana this past month. With an army of faithful volunteers we have served over 13,500 meals, sent 5 semi-truckloads of emergency relief supplies, and have helped numerous homeowners clear away the flooded debris from their homes – giving them hope to start the rebuilding process. But there is still much more to do!

Volunteers are urgently needed to help sort through and salvage belongings, clear away flooded debris, and mud-out and gut homes – tearing out soggy sheetrock and flooring – so families can start the rebuilding process. Operation Blessing invites you to recruit a team and help restore hope to those who have lost so much.

Operation Blessing is sending volunteers out Monday – Saturday now through September 30. Volunteers who are local to the area (and do NOT need volunteer housing), can go directly to Volunteer Check-In each day at 8:30 AM or Noon. (Please arrive 15 minutes early to complete your volunteer registration.)  Volunteers should wear long pants and hard-sole shoes. Operation Blessing will provide tools, safety equipment, a safety briefing, t-shirt, and lunch.

Volunteer Check-In
Monday- Saturday at 8:30 AM
Healing Place Church (Denham Springs Campus)
569 Florida Avenue SW
Denham Springs, LA 70726

Volunteer Housing: For volunteers traveling from outside the area, Volunteer Housing is available. You can request housing by sending an email to volunteer@ob.org. Please include your name, telephone number, the number of team members, and the dates you would like to serve. You can also call 757-226-3407 to reserve housing. Reservations must be made 48 hours prior to your requested arrival time.  Operation Blessing will provide your lodging, meals, tools, and make work assignments. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to/from the work site each day.

Please note: all volunteers must be at least 18 years old and serve in teams of at least two people.

Thank you for your support and heart to serve those in need. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call 757-226-3407 or email volunteer@ob.org.

God Bless,

Kerry

Kerry L. Dodson
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager

U.S. Disaster Relief
Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike virginia beach, va 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

Nonprofit pleads for volunteers to help Louisiana flood victims

Operation Blessing, International photo
Operation Blessing, International photo

Devastating floods in Louisiana aren’t receiving the kind of national news coverage as have other big disasters, and that’s affecting the amount of volunteer assistance victims are receiving, according to an email message from nonprofit relief organization Operation Blessing International (OB).

As you’ll see in the verbatim message below, OB has a great need for volunteers who are able to travel from outside the disaster area. Please share this information widely, to improve the chance that it will get in front of the eyes of someone who might be able and willing to help.

From: “Operation Blessing International” <volunteer@ob.org>
Subject: Manpower Desperately Needed in LA: Operation Blessing Volunteer Housing Now Available
Date: 20 Aug 2016 14:59:38 -0600

Dear OB Volunteer:

Operation Blessing is on the ground in the Denham Springs and Baton Rouge areas following the catastrophic floods that devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi this past week with more than 40,000 homes affected and thousands or residents who have lost everything. You can provide the hope that they need, by volunteering your time!

Manpower is desperately needed! Because so many homes have been flooded, the local volunteer response is limited and with the lack of news coverage that leaves these residents without the manpower and help they desperately need. Please consider getting a team of friends, coworkers or members of your church together. We will take care of everything you need, including housing, if you can just get here!

Volunteers are needed to sort through and salvage belongings, remove flooded debris, gut homes by removing soggy insulation and drywall and most importantly be there to love, listen, and minister to these precious residents who have lost so much.

Volunteer Housing is now available! Operation Blessing provides lodging, meals, tools and makes work assignments. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to and from the work site each day.  Volunteers must be 18 years or older and serve in teams of at least 2 people. To stay in Volunteer Housing, please contact us volunteer@ob.org with your name, telephone number, and number of team members and we will give you a call within 24-48 hours or you may call us at 757-226-3407.

If you are local to the area and do not need volunteer housing, you can report directly to the site Monday – Saturday 8:30 AM and Noon. Volunteer Check-In is located at:

Healing Place Church (Denham Springs Campus)
569 Florida Avenue SW
Denham Springs, LA 70726

Just a few days of your time can make an eternal impact to the people of Louisiana who have lost so much.

Thank you and God Bless.

Kerry

Kerry L. Dodson
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager
U.S. Disaster Relief

Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike | virginia beach, va 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

Flood forces home evacuations, sand-baggers requested

Firefighters rescued 38 people and eight pets from flood waters at Stoney Creek Estates in Zanesville, Ind. early this morning. WANE-TV photo.
Firefighters rescued 38 people and eight pets from flood waters at Stoney Creek Estates in Zanesville, Ind. early this morning. WANE-TV photo.

Flooding forced 38 people to evacuate their mobile homes in Zanesville, Ind. early this morning, according to a report by Fort Wayne television station WANE.

The Southwest (Allen County) Fire District and the Ossian Fire Department responded to Stoney Creek Estates at around 1 a.m.

Emergency workers transported the residents to a shelter at Zanesville United Methodist Church.

Flood water submerged transformers in the mobile home park, so utility workers had to shut off power.

At about the same time, emergency crews evacuated about 10 homes in the Huntington County town of Andrews and the Huntington County Emergency Management Agency called for volunteers to help fill sandbags:

As of 9:27 a.m. today, the agency indicated it could still use volunteers at the Street Department on Webster Street in Huntington this morning.

High water has closed many roads and highways in northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio.

The sun came out this morning, but it will take a while for flood waters to receded, according to an inforgraphic published by the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service:

The office issued a “Hazardous Weather Outlook” this morning that indicated more heavy rain could bring additional flooding Wednesday:

HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
703 AM EDT TUE JUN 16 2015

INZ004>009-012>018-020-022>027-032>034-MIZ078>081-OHZ001-002-004-005-
015-016-024-025-171115-
ST. JOSEPH IN-ELKHART-LAGRANGE-STEUBEN-NOBLE-DE KALB-STARKE-PULASKI-
MARSHALL-FULTON IN-KOSCIUSKO-WHITLEY-ALLEN IN-WHITE-CASS IN-MIAMI-
WABASH-HUNTINGTON-WELLS-ADAMS-GRANT-BLACKFORD-JAY-CASS MI-
ST. JOSEPH MI-BRANCH-HILLSDALE-WILLIAMS-FULTON OH-DEFIANCE-HENRY-
PAULDING-PUTNAM-VAN WERT-ALLEN OH-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...SOUTH BEND...MISHAWAKA...ELKHART...
GOSHEN...LAGRANGE...TOPEKA...ANGOLA...KENDALLVILLE...LIGONIER...
AUBURN...GARRETT...KNOX...NORTH JUDSON...WINAMAC...FRANCESVILLE...
PLYMOUTH...BREMEN...ROCHESTER...WARSAW...WINONA LAKE...
COLUMBIA CITY...SOUTH WHITLEY...FORT WAYNE...MONTICELLO...
BROOKSTON...LOGANSPORT...PERU...WABASH...NORTH MANCHESTER...
HUNTINGTON...BLUFFTON...OSSIAN...DECATUR...BERNE...MARION...
HARTFORD CITY...MONTPELIER...PORTLAND...DOWAGIAC...CASSOPOLIS...
STURGIS...THREE RIVERS...COLDWATER...HILLSDALE...BRYAN...WAUSEON...
ARCHBOLD...DEFIANCE...NAPOLEON...PAULDING...ANTWERP...OTTAWA...
PANDORA...VAN WERT...DELPHOS...LIMA
703 AM EDT TUE JUN 16 2015

THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR PORTIONS OF NORTHWEST OHIO...
NORTHERN INDIANA AND SOUTHWEST LOWER MICHIGAN.

.DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT

FLOOD WARNINGS CONTINUE FOR A LARGE PORTION OF NORTHERN INDIANA
INTO NORTHWEST OHIO...PRIMARILY ALONG AND SOUTH OF ROUTE 30.
ADDITIONALLY...MODERATE TO MAJOR FLOODING IS FORECAST ON
LARGER...MAIN STEM RIVERS.

.DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN...WEDNESDAY THROUGH MONDAY

THERE WILL BE PERSISTENT CHANCES FOR THUNDERSTORMS WEDNESDAY
THROUGH SUNDAY. THE HIGHEST CHANCES APPEAR TO BE IN THE WEDNESDAY
INTO WEDNESDAY NIGHT TIMEFRAME...AND AGAIN SATURDAY NIGHT INTO
SUNDAY. HEAVY RAINFALL AT TIMES...ESPECIALLY WEDNESDAY INTO
WEDNESDAY NIGHT...MAY LEAD TO FLASH FLOODING OR CONTRIBUTE TO
ADDITIONAL EXTENSIVE FLOODING IN AREAS ALREADY IMPACTED WITH
STANDING WATER. WHILE AN ISOLATED STRONG TO MARGINALLY SEVERE
STORM CANNOT BE RULED OUT ON WEDNESDAY...BY FAR THE PRIMARY THREAT
WILL BE VERY HEAVY RAINFALL.

.SPOTTER INFORMATION STATEMENT...

SPOTTERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO SUBMIT FLOOD REPORTS AND HEAVY RAINFALL
TOTALS IN EXCESS OF TWO INCHES.

&&

STAY TUNED TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO FOR FURTHER DETAILS OR UPDATES...OR
CHECK OUR WEB SITE AT WEATHER.GOV/IWX

Palm Sunday tornado tweets a must read for weather, history buffs

Anyone interested in severe weather, history, or both will greatly appreciate a series of posts that the National Weather Service northern Indiana weather forecast office (WFO) published on the micro-blogging site Twitter yesterday.

And the WFO’s staff should be commended for excellent work gathering a great deal of historical information about the April 11, 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak and for presenting it in such a compelling way.

The WFO prepared more than 100 tweets, many with images of actual text products issued via teletype the day of the outbreak. Other tweets contained Google maps with tornado tracks marked on them and photos of the tornadoes taken by citizens and photojournalists.

To add to the drama, the WFO scheduled each tweet to appear on Twitter at times coincident with the actual times of day that the events occurred. Genius.

The WFO’s series of tweets gives viewers a real sense of how different severe weather forecasting, detection and warnings were 50 years ago. For example, one thing that struck me was the Fort Wayne Weather Bureau office relaying to local broadcast media via teletype word of tornadoes in the Lafayette area. These days, because of better detection and communication technology, you rarely see WFOs issuing text products regarding tornadoes that distant.

If you missed the live tweets yesterday, you’re in luck, because they’re still visible on the Twitter website, even to people who do not have Twitter accounts. Just follow this link. When you get there, scroll down to a point near the bottom of the page to the tweet that reads, “We are beginning the live tweet of the events of 4/11/65, the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak,” and then read your way up from there.

I highly recommend it.

 

 

Meteorology prof posts Ill. tornado damage photos

Below are some photo tweets shared by College of DuPage assistant professor of meteorology Vittorio (Victor) Gensini today as he helped with damage assessment after yesterday’s tornado in the Fairdale, Ill. area. The National Weather Service has preliminarily rated the tornado as a long-track EF-4.

NWS plans Twitter commemoration of Palm Sunday tornado outbreak

The famous Palm Sunday twin tornado photo, taken along U.S. 33 by Paul Huffman of the
The famous Palm Sunday twin tornado photo, taken along U.S. 33 by Paul Huffman of the “Elkhart Truth”

If you follow the the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service on Twitter (@NWSIWX) and if your smart phone beeps at you every time the office tweets, you might want to change your settings before tomorrow.

The office plans to send more than 100 tweets to mark the 50th anniversary of the April 11, 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak that killed 145 people in Indiana. No other tornado outbreak in the state’s history has killed that many people.

Presentation slide from northern Indiana NWS office.
Presentation slide from northern Indiana NWS office.

The NWS office plans to send tweets in real time, as if it were live tweeting during the actual outbreak. Every tweet will include the hash tag #PalmSunday50. This will give followers a feel for how NWS received information that day and the warnings it issued.

You can follow along, whether or not you have a Twitter account. The tweets will be visible at either of the following Web URLs:

https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%22%23PalmSunday50%22&src=typd

https://twitter.com/nwsiwx

The NWS office has also created a special website that provides detailed information about the outbreak, including photos like the one at the top of this post and first-hand accounts that witnesses provided the NWS.