Local men aid victims of hurricane

September 04, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Reminiscences gushed Friday from Tony Pirrone and Richard Humbert, who just completed nearly three weeks of helping victims of Hurricane Charley in Florida.

As volunteers with Washington County's chapter of the American Red Cross, Pirrone, 61, and Humbert, 63, traveled through hurricane-damaged areas, finding out what people needed and helping them get it. They were right in the middle of poverty, loss and gloom.

During a stop at the Red Cross office off Eastern Boulevard on Friday, the Hagerstown men described third-World-type living conditions and devastation caused by the storm - but also graciousness expressed by those they helped, as well as their own satisfaction in providing aid.


Sitting in on the fast-paced chat was Mike Mowen, 51, of Hagerstown, who appears bound for Florida on Sunday. He'll do the same work Pirrone and Humbert did, but for victims of the follow-up storm, Hurricane Frances.

Mowen - whose employer, Rust-Oleum Corp., is giving him two weeks off for the humanitarian mission - said the stories didn't make him antsy. He plans to "just jump in the pool with both feet," he said.

In a way, that's what the Washington County chapter did through Pirrone, a retired firefighter, and Humbert, a sanitarian for the county's health department.

Around the beginning of August, the Washington County chapter became the custodian of an emergency response vehicle, or ERV, that belongs to the national chapter.

As custodian, the Washington County chapter must get the ERV to a disaster wherever in the country that it's needed.

Cindy Blackstock Kline, the director of emergency services for the county chapter, said this arrangement should lead to more local volunteers being sent to national disasters.

Hurricane Charley hit Florida's Gulf Coast on Aug. 13. Pirrone and Humbert left Hagerstown in the ERV three days later.

The ERV - a little larger than an ambulance - was stocked with flashlights, plastic bags, bug spray and other essentials.

Once in Florida, the men gave out toiletries and vouchers for clothing and they distributed meals - about 5,600, they figured - prepared by Southern Baptists.

Humbert said theirs was one of 241 ERVs in Florida and the best stocked that he saw.

After a two-day drive to Florida, the men started in Sarasota, then moved to Lake Wales in Polk County, where they worked long hours for 14 days, Pirrone said. They also spent time in Wauchula, which is more inland.

Often, they would drive somewhere and announce themselves and their origin, then hear from grateful Washington County transplants living in Florida.

But even those who didn't know them were glad to see them.

"These people had tears in their eyes," Pirrone said. "No one wanted us to leave."

"They looked like they were shellshocked," Humbert said. But, "every day, they got happier."

Pirrone recalled how a young girl who lost a tooth was wildly thrilled to find $2 - from him - under her pillow one morning.

A woman was grateful to get a hairbrush.

Humbert joked about a woman who nearly dragged him out of the ERV to plant a thank-you kiss.

Each man also joked about the other man not pulling his weight or causing mischief of some sort - but the barbs were in the spirit of a mission well done.

Mowen is scheduled to fly to Atlanta on Sunday to meet up with ERVs headed for the region that Hurricane Frances is on target to strike.

"Expect pandemonium," Humbert cautioned him.

"But once you get on the road, you're fine," Pirrone said.

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