WASHINGTON — She’s an über-volunteer with the American Red Cross, back on the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Laura threatens 2 million people and “unsurvivable” storm surge.
Jackie Rivera is a veteran of 14 disaster relief efforts, with the approaching Category 4 hurricane marking her 15th multi-week deployment.
“Our team here is like a fine watch that keeps on winding and winding,” Rivera said from the Red Cross’s temporary hurricane relief headquarters in Houston. “You come here knowing it’s going to be long hours and lots of work, so you bring your extra vitamins, and keep going.”
The 1,000-mile trek from Rivera’s Loudoun County home to Texas is now a familiar one, with her last assignment ending only weeks ago in response to Hurricane Hannah.
Across East Texas, windows are boarded up and emergency supplies are gone. Forecast models project sustained winds of 150 mph when the hurricane makes landfall, a direct hit to the Texas-Louisiana border after midnight Thursday.
“We saw a 20-mile backup of folks driving west out of Beaumont,” Rivera said. “My day yesterday started at 8 a.m., and I didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight.”
Rivera, 66, is serving in this deployment as a feeding associate. She will visit different shelters delivering hot food, moving closer to the direct impact zone after the storm passes.
Approximately 250 people are stationed in Houston, with the Red Cross’s Washington-area chapter initially sending two volunteers to Texas and two to Louisiana.
Although Rivera is a veteran, she said coronavirus poses additional challenges to response efforts. The difficulties range from the physical inconvenience of wearing a mask in stifling heat, to the emotional separation from physical distancing.
“You’re trying to put 50 cases of water in your vehicle wearing a mask, well it’s hot, it’s humid, and you’re sweating like a dog,” Rivera said. “But honestly, the hardest part for me at this time, is not being able to hug my clients. I’m a very big hugger, and when you’re talking to people, yet social distancing six feet away, you just want to go up and hug the person.”