A Red Cross volunteer witnesses the destruction of Hurricane Ian

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When Kalispell’s Cassandra Loveless returned from a trip across the West this summer and fall, she had no idea her next trip would be straight into a hurricane.

Loveless, who runs her own administrative assistance business, spent 10 days in Florida volunteering with the Red Cross during and after Hurricane Ian.

While her deployments to Jacksonville and Wauchula took her away from the main areas of destruction caused by the hurricane, Loveless says there was still a lot to do to manage emergency shelters in both locations.

“It was kind of funny that I was away from Montana for all the flooding and fires this year and as soon as I come back I’m going through a hurricane,” Loveless said. “It could have been a lot worse, but seeing 15 inches of rain in less than 24 hours was enough for me.”

For Loveless, this was her first out-of-state posting with the Red Cross since she began volunteering with the organization during the pandemic lockdown in 2020.

“I was living alone at the time and felt quite isolated. I live just down the street from the Red Cross, so one afternoon I went to their website and found that they were looking for someone to transport blood donations from Kalispell to the main processing center in Great Falls. I thought it was covid friendly and a great way to help people and feel less isolated,” she said, “It was great then and it’s still great now.”

Upon arriving in Tallahassee, Loveless was assigned to an emergency shelter in Jacksonville, where she and her fellow volunteers helped the overcrowded facility as the storm swept through the state.

“We just locked ourselves in and set up all the beds,” she said. “Luckily the community had been through this before and already knew about the exercise, so all the beds and supplies had already been donated. It was impressive to see. »

With a week left on his deployment, Loveless and his team were reassigned to Wauchula, where flooding had forced more than 2,000 people into shelter at a local school.

After a long drive to reach the shelter, Loveless spent her first few hours there catching up on her much-needed sleep in a bathroom before getting to know some of the shelter’s displaced residents.

“There was an RV park that was hit hard by the flooding, so there were a lot of people there who had nowhere to go,” Loveless said. “A guy was sleeping in his trailer and when he woke up the water was up to his waist. He ended up having to be airlifted.

With space at a premium, Loveless and her team did what they could to help.

“We had had loads of bedding and clothing donations, so people were taking whatever they could,” she said. “Everyone’s shoes had been damaged, but luckily we had a lot of donated shoes. It was nice to be able to help. »

When the floods started to recede, most were able to return home, but the shelter still housed more than 80 people who had nowhere to go. The school reopening soon, it was necessary to find a new shelter.

Loveless said the team was ready to move everyone to an area Baptist church, but the structure burned down shortly before the planned move. Fortunately, the group was able to secure the use of an unused public health building that met their needs.

With her deployment complete, Loveless has returned home to Kalispell, where she stands ready to help again should the need arise.

“It almost felt like two different deployments, but everything went pretty well in both places.”

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