A local woman with a history of working in communities devastated by disaster has returned home from High River, Alberta.
On a mission with Red Cross, Mary Nishio was in the community of 13,000 that was devastated by a flash flood that hit on June 20. Nishio was in Alberta for three weeks along with three other Nelson residents.
While Nishio was primarily working at the headquarters set up in Calgary, she was in High River just two days after the flood hit, her first day on the job.
“They were sending people on busses back into High River to see their homes and also notifying people for the first time what the status of their home was,” she told 103.5 The Bridge.
Homes were being ranked by colour — green meaning the home was fine, yellow that there was some damage, and orange that more significant damage had occurred.
“Red meant that unfortunately, they would not be able to live in their houses again,” said Nishio.
Supply trucks rolled into town and residents were given clean-up kits, suits, masks and gloves and containers for debris taken out of their homes. Red Cross was there to help support these people at an extremely difficult time.
Nishio was alongside Red Cross members coming from across Canada. About 200 to 250 people were flown in. She says being among this dedicated team on Canada Day spent in High River was gratifying.
“Let me say how proud I am to have been there with Red Cross volunteers from all over Canada. All who had come to help had given up their vacations, had given up paid leave, and were all helping to support the people of High River,” Nishio said.
The retired woman most recently did relief work with the Red Cross in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami struck that country in 2011. She also worked in Japan following the Kobe earthquake in 1995, as well as helping out after Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti.
On previous missions, she worked primarily with clients but this time concentrated on supporting other Red Cross members as they dealt with the stresses and emotions of such an intense situation.
“Our workers were going out in the fields on outreach. They were helping support people. They would go out and people would say, ‘my gosh, you are the first people who’ve asked us how we are,’” she said.
“There would be lots of hugs, lots of tears. People were variously affected. Some had just lost power others would never be able to live in their homes again.”
Red Cross teams were also on location in other Alberta communities stricken by floods in June including Morley, Exshaw, Canmore and Calgary. Nishio described the cleanup conditions in High River as challenging for volunteers who were dressed head-to-toe to keep themselves safe from contamination. Masks made breathing difficult and the heat more intense. But these precautions were necessary.
“You can imagine down there, once it starts to get hot, you’ve got wet, mould grows. You’ve got sewage mixed with all the floodwaters. You’ve got dried fecal matter floating in the wind. I take my hat off to our volunteers that were down working directly in that area,” Nishio said. “Our people had various levels of stress as they supported clients. I was the person with my team who supported them when they needed it.”
As the volunteer returned home, the relief effort had turned to recovery. Nishio said her latest mission was the largest deployment in the history of the Red Cross but she predicts that more large-scale weather-related disasters will occur more often in the future.
“We will need good people,” she said.
For more information about volunteering with Red Cross check them out at redcross.ca.