By Jennifer Vardy Little
The Kings County Register
As millions watched news images of the destruction caused along the eastern seaboard of the United States by Superstorm Sandy, a Coldbrook woman was struck with one thought: “I have to help.”
Susan Dingle, a longtime Canadian Red Cross volunteer, spent three weeks in New Jersey in November, aiding her American counterparts at the Red Cross in the days after the disaster.
Hurricane Sandy – which collided with a nor’easter to create a “superstorm” – is being blamed for 131 deaths in the U.S. When it struck New Jersey on Oct. 29, it washed away a chunk of the Atlantic City boardwalk, left 72,000 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed and costs are estimated to be more than $36 billion.
“There was destruction down there I don’t think you really saw in the media,” she said. “You’d look around and you just wouldn’t see anything intact. Right against the shore, everything was washed away. If people had two storeys, the upper storey might’ve been preserved, but the downstairs was gone.”
Less than a week after the storm hit, Dingle was on the ground as part of the Red Cross mass care initiative, primarily working on feeding the people impacted by the storm as they began picking up the pieces of their lives.
“We had 350 Red Cross vehicles that all went out into the neighbourhoods to give hot meals to people,” Dingle explained. “It would be nothing to hand out 11,000 hot meals a day, really well-balanced, hot meals that we’d give out twice a day.”
Dingle would navigate through some of the impacted neighbourhoods and either go street by street, handing out the meals, water and snacks, or park and allow people to come to her.
But more than just providing food to people who had no power – and many had very little left of their homes – Dingle also provided a listening ear.
“You’re on the front lines, and you’d hear their stories,” she said, and for most people, a listening ear was something they desperately needed. She was also able to radio a roving mental health unit for anyone who needed a to speak with a professional.
“It’s the worse time of their lives, and you’d hear their stories. But what really struck me was just the gratitude they expressed. They’d be surprised I came all the way from Canada…I was always overwhelmed when they took the time to say thank you.”
For 21 days straight, she worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and when she left on Nov. 25, just four and a half weeks after the storm, many were just getting power back.
Dingle initially became involved in the Red Cross in 1999, when Kosovo refugees were brought to Kings County. She’s deployed a number of times over the years, including a trip to Mississippi to help victims of hurricane Katrina.
Anyone can volunteer with the Red Cross, she added, but before they can deploy to disasters, they need to work their way up through the system. She urges anyone with an interest in volunteering to contact the local office in Kentville at 678-0415. The group meets once a month and helps people here at home, as well as sending longtime members like Dingle to disaster scenes.
“You make a meaningful difference,” she said. “I’ll go again, and I’ll certainly be ready.”