W.Va. volunteers helping with disaster relief

ELKINS — Dozens of West Virginians have volunteered to help clean up Florida and Texas in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but new disasters this week in Puerto Rico and Mexico have only intensified the need for more volunteers and donations, a local official said.

Gary Clay, the chairman of the board of directors for the American Red Cross — West Virginia Region, said orientation and training sessions for volunteers are being offered across West Virginia.

“It just seems like the tsunami of disasters,” Clay said of the string of catastrophes that now includes Hurricane Maria and a deadly earthquake in Mexico.

“We’ve already had 57 volunteers from throughout the state who are deployed, volunteering to help with these disasters,” Clay said Friday. “We’ve had people who went to volunteer in Texas who are now back. Normally we have a two-week deployment. But with all that’s happened and continues to happen, these recovery efforts are going to be long-term.”

Clay said that anyone interested in volunteering should go to www.redcross.org/beahero. A total of 18 different orientation and training sessions are being offered in seven Red Cross offices in West Virginia throughout the month of September.

“Donations are absolutely needed, but to be able to give time and to give hands-on help to folks is really special. Seven folks from West Virginia will be leaving Monday as part of a volunteer deployment to Puerto Rico,” Clay said. “Four or five of our paid staff will likely be going to Florida and Texas to help in leadership positions.”

This week’s developments in Puerto Rico and Mexico have “really doubled the need,” Clay said.

What’s happened in Puerto Rico is just unbelievable. They’re saying it might be for or five months before they have electricity back.

Some of the Mexican Red Cross people were here in Texas helping with that, and then the earthquake hit and they had to go back and deal with that,” Clay said.

Red Cross officials hope public awareness of the recovery efforts doesn’t fade as new coverage slows.

“The initial responses have been tremendous, and now as it starts to go off the news, the need for volunteers and money is just as great as it’s ever been,” Clay said. “It won’t be over for some time.”

West Virginians have a long tradition of helping out during tough times, Clay said.

“In West Virginia, for years, by capita, we have more people in the armed service, and here we are again, being the first ones willing to help out and to give their all,” he said. “It just shows that great Mountaineer spirit we have in this state.”