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Red Cross honors local hurricane volunteers

March 24, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

HAGERSTOWN

There was no color in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck.

"It was just bleak," said local Red Cross volunteer Carolyn Riggins, describing her trip to the city after the hurricane.

"When you're driving on the highway, you're kind of above the city, in a sense. All you could see was gray and white," said Riggins, 45, of Boonsboro.

Riggins was among a group of 40 people and 20 organizations honored by the American Red Cross of Washington County on Thursday.

"Thank you for making it happen, thank you for making a difference," said Alfred "Al" Martin, the chapter's volunteer chairman, during the ceremony.

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The local chapter raised $250,000 for the hurricane relief effort, not including an estimated $1 million that Washington County residents donated online, said Julie Barr-Strasburg, executive director of the local chapter.

Volunteers and donors received certificates and pins.

"This is the way we'd like to see it everywhere," said Judith Ostronic, the American Red Cross' national chair for biomedical services.

Riggins was among the five Washington County volunteers to spend weeks in the South after Katrina.

As a volunteer, Riggins drove through what remained of the city's streets distributing meals.

"I was surprised by the people's optimism," Riggins said. "Given all of that destruction, they still had hope."

Elaine Hurd, another of the honorees, said nothing could have prepared her for the destruction she saw in Louisiana.

"I don't think pictures we see paint the full picture," Hurd said. "It was like the aftermath of a tornado, but the destruction stretched for hundreds of miles."

Hurd, 57, of Rohrersville, Md., recalled seeing houses torn down to the foundations and "obstacles" in the road, such as a boat that was swept from the water and planted in the street.

Hurd, a retired nurse, volunteered at a shelter, a church in Laplace, La. She distributed supplies by day and slept on a cot between the church pews at night.

"It's something I'll never forget," Hurd said. "People are more resilient than we give them credit for."

Even though Washington County is a considerable distance from the areas affected by Katrina, the impact was still felt locally.

The local chapter assisted 20 people who were displaced by the storm, said Cindy Blackstock, the chapter's director of emergency service.

"The hurricane touched down on a Monday and we were doing interviews on Tuesday," Blackstock said.

According to the Red Cross' national office, the organization spent $224 million on food and shelter for the destruction caused during the 2005 hurricane season.

The organization said total costs will reach $2.116 billion.

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