Natural disasters can be devastating and at times deadly, but more often than not they bring communities together. Hurricane Irene was no exception. The powerful category one hurricane swept the East Coast last weekend—wind speeds reached 83 mph in Gwynn's Island in Mathews County—causing the second largest power outage in Virginia’s history. Organizations and companies across the state have stepped up and answered the call to action, helping the hundreds of thousands affected by Hurricane Irene, providing meal sites, transportation and electrical charging stations and aiding in the slow but steady process of restoration.
Places like the Arthur Ashe Center and the Blackwell Community Center in Richmond, and the Newington Baptist Church in Gloucester have teamed up with the American Red Cross and have been providing shelter and food for those seriously affected by hurricane Irene. “Whatever the needs are that’s what we’re trying to do. [The Arthur Ashe Center] has been open twenty-four hours a day,” says James Oliver, a member of the management team for the Arthur Ashe Center. "It is one of a few locations that has been designated [for emergency relief] so anytime there is a disaster we kinda get in that mode in case it is needed."
On Tuesday afternoon Richmond’s GRTC public transportation system partnered with the mayor’s office to implement the GRTC City Supermarket Shuttle in which buses have been taking loads of people from throughout the city to area grocery stores to buy needed items. “We were very lucky," says Joan Straszbwski, a GRTC company representative. "Even though we had a power outage, we were able to use backup power and our buses never quit during the storm. We have been running regular services through the weekend and continue to do so.”
But with power outages that affected 95 percent of Dominion Power customers after the hurricane, some have not been so lucky. Monica Rouse of Henrico lost power Saturday evening when a large tree in her back yard fell and took the electrical lines with it. “Initial reaction, I was scared,” says Rouse. “Down the street from me a tree fell on a car and a few houses down a tree fell in a neighbors’ bedroom.” Although Dominion is restoring power to an average of 35,000 a day there are still plenty of neighborhoods waiting for the lights to be turned back on.
In the days prior to Hurricane Irene, agencies like the Red Cross began to prepare for what has become a tireless work effort throughout Virginia and other states on the East Coast to ease the hardship individuals are now dealing with due to power outages and damage caused by fallen trees and debris. The Red Cross brought 35 mobile feeding units into Virginia before the hurricane hit in anticipation of the aftermath. Now, with the aid of the additional units, the help of 3 full service kitchens and volunteers flooding in from as far out west as Seattle, Washington, the Red Cross is now supporting 13 shelters in 11 different localities.
“There is significant need in terms of food and supplies and that’s what we’ve been able to provide,” says Jon NcNamaara, regional director of donor and media relations for the Red Cross. Over the course of the next week the Red Cross plans on reaching out to families that need longer term care and doing whatever they can to meet their needs. “We’re starting to hear from some people that it’s going to be a couple of weeks," says NcNamaara. "We are in it for the long haul and intend to be.”
Of course the Red Cross isn't the only relief agency helping Virginians in need. In Norfolk and Spottsylvania The Salvation Army has already provided lodging for 265 people and served more than 6,400 meals, snacks and drinks.
Virginia Living wishes to recognize and thank everyone involved in the Hurricane Irene response effort, be they Dominion Power workers returning power to the people, city and state workers removing debris from the streets, relief workers providing much-needed aid or regular people showing goodwill to neighbors in need.