Wednesday, 24 July 2013 07:20

Swift Current Salvation Army provides helping hand to Alberta flood victims

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The Swift Current Salvation Army deployed six people over a period of three weeks to provide physical and emotional support to the victims of the devastating flood in southern Alberta.


The first team of two people departed from Swift Current on June 23 with a mobile feeding truck and stayed until July 7, when they were replaced by a group of four people. The second group returned on July 13 with the truck, which is based in Regina.
Pat Newburgh and his daughter Jennifer Batdorf worked together for the first two weeks. They spent most of their time in High River, which was severely affected by the flood. They provided water and snacks to people as well as emotional and spiritual care.
Batdorf was left in awe by all the devastation around her.
“You don't expect a flood to do that much damage,” she said. “I've never seen damage like that before.”
They were in High River on the first day that residents were allowed to return to their homes and people were very emotional.
“They were happy because they still had each other, even if they lost everything,” she said.
They gave out about 1,200 bottles of water on that day and for Batdorf it was a humbling experience to realize Canadians were without water.
“We are a civilized nation, water comes out of a tap, but to be able to hand somebody a bottle of water and they say 'Thank you, I haven't had one today' is very humbling,” she said.
Newburgh will remember the way people responded to losing their homes and belongings in the flood.
“They still seem to have a spirit of helping their neighbours ... and they were really thankful that we were there, helping them,” he said.
For both of them it was a new experience to work in a disaster area. Batdorf credited the Salvation Army for her decision to volunteer.
“The Salvation Army has brought a lot of my beliefs that I need to start helping others and to do it through the Salvation Army was wonderful,” she said.
Both of them received disaster relief training from the Salvation Army in the spring, but Newburgh said nothing can prepare one for the actual situation.
“Once you get in there and you're actually doing it, you learn a lot,” he said.
The second group consisted of Gwyn Peters, Richard Parr, Stephen Oakey and Captain Michael Ramsey, the commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Swift Current. Their duties also included the provision of hot meals to people from mobile feeding trucks.
Most of the time they provided support in High River but Peters and Ramsay spearheaded the Salvation Army work in the small community of Exshaw, which was cut off from the outside world after the flood. According to Peters the Exshaw residents were really thankful to see them.
“The water of the lake came down the mountain, from 26 miles up and wiped out two streets of that town,” she said. “We walked up and down those streets with water and sandwiches and we're handing them out to people. We got to see a lot of devastation and it was just heartbreaking.”
This was a new experience for her and she was not sure if she would be emotionally ready to provide people with support.
“Once you're in it and you're talking to people things just come naturally,” she said. “You just mostly listen to them, because they need to talk and get things out. It was really something to hear their stories and to see the devastation of all their possessions on the lawn and how they felt about seeing that day after day.”
For Peters the most difficult part of the trip was to cope with all the things she has seen and experienced. She recalled helping an elderly man who was really confused and to her relief he later came back to speak to her when he was feeling better.
“I think a lot of it, in the evening after you're back home and you're processing the things that you've heard and it really hits you when you think about that,” she said. “I think about what I'm doing  this week and what those people are doing. They're still cleaning out their houses and it really makes an impact.”
Parr's decision to volunteer was a difficult one, because he has suffered eight heart attacks in the past and he was using a mobile oxygen unit to assist his breathing.
I thought if the Lord wants me to go then I'll pray about it,” he said. “So I prayed that if God wanted me to go then He would cause me to be able to breathe and my heart wouldn't get me into trouble without oxygen.”
He stopped using oxygen during the trip to Calgary and since then has only been using oxygen at night. In addition to spending four days in High River, his feeding truck unit was called on to provide assistance at an apartment fire in Calgary.
He was struck by the scale of the flood damage and also by the gratitude from people towards the Salvation Army.
“They couldn't thank us enough,” he said. “Our reception was absolutely amazing. It made it so worth going through all of what we were going through because they had lost so much and yet their attitudes were pretty good.”
For Parr the trip was physically and emotionally a challenge, but at the same time a very satisfying experience.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life and I'm 66 years old,” he said. “It was the most fulfilling thing I've ever done ... It was wonderful to be able to know that I could bring some hope to the people.”
Ramsay has provided disaster relief before, for example after the fatal natural gas explosion in Nipawin and in the United States after Hurricane Ike.
“The new part of this for me was the stage of the emergency that I was involved in,” he said. “I'm usually deployed as one of the first responders. So this was a new phase for me seeing the second phase.”
During the initial phase of a disaster people's minds are entirely focused on dealing with the moment of crisis.
“When you're there in the second phase a lot of the crisis thoughts are out of the way and you're just left with your emotions of where am I, what do I do now,” he said.
According to Ramsay the Swift Current volunteers did a really good job and he received compliments from incident command system staff about their performance.
“I believe that we responded well in helping our neighbours,” he said.

Read 13569 times Last modified on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 15:12