The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 9, 2012

Limestone volunteers head north to help Sandy victims

By Adam Smith

— Limestone County volunteers are lending a hand to residents along the East Coast still reeling from the one-two punch of Hurricane Sandy and a nor’easter dubbed Winter Storm Athena.

Shirley Crutcher, emergency services manager for the North Alabama District of the American Red Cross, said five Limestone Countians have been dispatched to New York and New Jersey to help with relief efforts. A total of 20 volunteers have responded from the 10-county district.

“They are (involved) in different groups and activities, including sheltering, feeding and helping clients have a safe place to sleep,” she said. “We have some that will also do casework and interview clients to find out their basic needs.”

Two Limestone volunteers, Steve and Mattie Branch, left Thursday with an emergency response vehicle that will distribute food and other supplies.

Helping those in need is nothing new to Branch, however, who has been a certified Red Cross volunteer for three years. Following the April 27, 2011, tornadoes, Branch assisted residents in the Birmingham area.

Speaking by phone from Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Branch said he and his wife were en route to Brooklyn where they’ll receive their assignments. He said they would likely be assisting in feeding residents and taking part in case management.

“We like to comfort the people and give them hope and assurance that there is somebody there,” he said. “This storm doesn’t compare to Katrina, but the damage is three times what Katrina did.”

He said that though he’ll first go to Brooklyn, the couple may be reassigned to other hard-hit areas including Connecticut, Rhode Island or South Carolina. The Branches will be deployed a total of 14 days but can extend their stay by another seven days before returning if they choose.

“My wife and I will miss our grandbabies, but God gave us this chance to help somebody else,” he said.

Damage in New York State from Superstorm Sandy could total $33 billion when all is said and done, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday as the state began cleaning up from the nor’easter that dumped snow, brought down power lines and left hundreds of thousands of new customers in darkness.

On Thursday, the nor’easter that stymied recovery efforts from Sandy pulled away from New York and New Jersey, leaving hundreds of thousands of new people without power but failing to swamp shorelines anew, as feared.

Residents from Connecticut to Rhode Island saw 3 to 6 inches of snow on Wednesday. Worcester, Mass., had 8 inches of snow, and Freehold, N.J., had just over a foot overnight. Some parts of Connecticut got a foot or more.

From Brooklyn to storm-battered sections of the Jersey shore and Connecticut, about 750,000 customers — more than 200,000 from the new storm — in the region were without power in temperatures near freezing, some after already living for days in the dark.

“We lost power last week, just got it back for a day or two, and now we lost it again,” said John Monticello, of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. “Every day it’s the same now: turn on the gas burner for heat. Instant coffee. Use the iPad to find out what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

Vladimir Repnin, of New York City’s Staten Island, emerged from his powerless home with a snow shovel in his hand, a cigarette in his mouth and a question from someone cut off from the outside world.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.