On Friday, Columbia resident John Souza returned from Florida where he was involved in the disaster relief efforts from Hurricane Charley.
With Hurricane Frances approaching, Souza said one of his main concerns is the damage left behind from Hurricane Charley. As high winds develop, debris could be hurtled through the air and cause additional damage.
“It’s quite a mess down there,” Souza said. “Loose debris is going to be a problem.”
Souza, who left Columbia on Aug. 21, is a member of the Boone County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Souza also works at Fulton State Hospital as a mental-health specialist. While in Florida, he primarily counseled victims of the disaster to help them deal with their losses.
“There was a lot of devastation there,” Souza said.
Souza, 53, spent most of his time in Florida working at various shelters in Port Charlotte. Homeowners with roofing damage from the initial hurricane were taken in there.
“We were fortunate in Port Charlotte because the Army Corps of Engineers volunteered to put up temporary roofing,” Souza said.
Depending on the size of a house, workers could secure a blue tarp around the perimeter of the roof in about an hour. This helped slow the water damage to many homes.
In addition to helping victims of the disaster, Souza said he spent a lot of time helping volunteer workers cope with the relief efforts.
“It would get into the mid-90s every day and rained often in the late afternoon,” Souza said. “It was hot and humid.”
“Many of the workers are forced to live in the shelter as well,” he said.
According to Souza, these conditions, coupled with the devastation from the storms, take both a physical and mental toll on relief workers.
Jutta Hopkins, executive director of the Boone County Chapter of the Red Cross, said the need for volunteers is growing with Frances approaching.
“We’re in the process of trying to get more recruits,” Hopkins said.
Residents can go to the Boone County chapter and sign up to volunteer. After completing a Local Disaster Volunteer program, the Red Cross will help make arrangements to send residents to help with the relief efforts.
“There are a lot of different groups down there,” Souza said.
Although the conditions are rough, Souza said being able to help people made the trip worth it.
“People are so thankful,” he said.
Souza began volunteering in 1998. He has traveled as a volunteer with the Red Cross about 10 times, including three weeks of work during the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel. He also helped out in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks.