ELKHART — More than 100 emergency responders from Indiana are on the East Coast helping locals prepare for Hurricane Sandy and the storm’s aftermath.
Among the volunteers braving strong winds, torrential rains and blustery weather are 29 Hoosiers who made the trip from Elkhart, St. Joseph, Kosciusko, Marshall, Starke, Fulton and Pulaski counties.
“This is one of those things where Mother Nature kind of has the upper hand,” Elkhart County Emergency Management director Jennifer Tobey said. “We can prepare and we can pre-plan, but some of our reaction can’t happen until we see just how mad she is. Some of it’s going to have to play out for us to see what our roles will be. That’s obviously the scary part.”
But despite the uncertainty, there are plans in place for the emergency responders, Tobey said. Fourteen people were deployed Saturday to New Jersey from the seven-county area in northern Indiana along with five ambulances and a backup vehicle. There, volunteers will be evacuating elderly and special needs residents from assisted living homes and clinics. The team is expected to return to Indiana on Thursday.
Another 15 people left on a charter bus late Sunday night to go to Maryland to help with the central command station, Tobey said. That group will likely be back in Indiana by Nov. 11, but they could be asked to stay longer.
“We’re very concerned about that because there is high stress and high intensity when you’re in a command post for that long,” Tobey said. “For a lot of us that went to Henryville for the tornado, after seven days, it’s rough. For them to be going out for 15 days, their work is going to be cut out for them.”
But chances are, Tobey said, their assignment probably won’t be extended. Instead, more volunteers would likely replace the responders who have been on duty.
Frank Connolly, executive director for Elkhart County’s American Red Cross, has traveled to the East Coast to help set up evacuation shelters in New York. He is among 11 Red Cross volunteers who deployed from Elkhart, Kosciusko and St. Joseph counties.
For now, Tobey is stationed at her office in Elkhart, but she could be called to work in Indianapolis or even on the coast if needed. Tobey said Elkhart County emergency responders will be on alert for at least two weeks.