The Ottumwa Courier

November 17, 2012

Red Cross volunteer talks about Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath

Eldon woman says seeing destruction was an eye-opening experience

Courier Staff Writer

ELDON — Kelley Laughlin wanted to give back.

Nine years ago, “the Red Cross helped me after I lost my house, pets, photos and all of my belongings in a house fire,” she said. “I found out the importance of helping others.”

So the Eldon woman volunteered for the organization and recently traveled to the East Coast to help those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

The “superstorm” caused destruction that was unbelievable, according to Laughlin.

“It was shocking to say the least,” she said.

Laughlin, who volunteers with the Southern Prairie chapter of the Red Cross in Ottumwa, was asked to travel to the storm-damaged area.

“I got a phone call, and the Red Cross asked if I was interested in lending a hand,” she said. “I said, sure, I’ll go. I’ve helped with local flooding in the Eldon area.”

The hurricane left behind so many scenes of destruction, something that grabbed at Laughlin’s heart?

“It was everybody trying to survive without electricity or heat,” she said. “For the first three days the area was just black due to no lights.”

Laughlin had brought a couple of flashlights with her,  and she used them to navigate in the pitch black. She noticed huge trees had been pulled out of the ground and tossed to the side. And power lines were down everywhere because of broken poles.

The darkness made finding addresses a tough assignment. Laughlin said it was so dark and there wasn’t anything to mark your way.

“The lines for getting gasoline were unbelievable, and stations had gas but no way to pump it out due to the power loss,” she said.

She and other Red Cross workers traveled to places that hadn’t had heat for four or five days, and people were desperate. The police stood with the workers, and some areas were “a bit scary. Anywhere I was at, the people were thankful, patient and waiting in line,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

Despite the experience, Laughlin is ready to go again if need be.

“There was so much going on,  and I’m glad I went,” she said.