Samaritan’s Purse chaplains help High River recovery (July 29, 2013)

Written by Ruth Lotholz

Published by Mayerthorpe Freelancer on Monday, July 29, 2013

HIGH RIVER - My husband, Arnie, and I had the opportunity to work as chaplains in High River on July 19 and 20 with Samaritan’s Purse. Our daughter, Darlene Martin, came along to work as a volunteer.

A few years ago after the Slave Lake Fire, we took the Rapid Response Training from the Billy Graham Association so that we would be ready to help meet the spiritual and emotional needs of homeowners and families affected by disaster.

For nearly 40 years Samaritan’s Purse has been involved with emergency relief and disaster response, providing clean water, food, shelter and household essentials, cooking equipment and hygiene items to people in areas struck by tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and famine. Now the need is here at home and Samaritan’s Purse immediately began assembling thousands of hygiene kits to give to people who suddenly found themselves living in emergency shelters.

Their specially equipped disaster relief units which include tractor-trailer units outfitted with essential disaster recovery equipment such as generators, pumps, hand tools and safety gear were set up in strategic locations. The main areas receiving help now are High River and the Siksika Nation where 200 homes were damaged. Volunteers sign up to help and show up at the deployment centres at 8 a.m.

There they sign in, sign a waiver, collect a Samaritan’s Purse T-shirt, Tyvek suits, safety glasses, masks, gloves, and respirators and are shown how to use them. Homeowners affected by the flood can request help online and by phone, and teams are sent to houses where they carry out household contents, rip out drywall, carpeting, flooring, toilets, sinks, stripping it down ready for rebuild. Because mould is a problem, walls are pressure washed and treated for mould.

Volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 70plus work for eight hours, shovelling out mud and debris that can be a foot deep. It’s hard work, uncomfortably hot in the Tyvek suits and respirators that must be worn – no exceptions.  Portable toilets grace the corners of every street affected, and lunch is served by various community groups and churches at a central area.

Because of mould and bacterial contamination some homes which had water sitting in them for several weeks have been declared “unfit for habitation” by Alberta Health Services, and homeowners are now not allowed to enter until a professional company cleans and disinfects them.

Arnie and I got to talk to homeowners who were trying to clean up the mess and make sense of their lives. Parents described how they were mandated to work*, while their children were picked up by neighbours and taken to Calgary.

Cell service went down and they had no contact with their children for 24 hours. One was rejoicing in finding cherished items she could save, another was trying to clean the rust from his socket set that had sat in water for two weeks, while others were dealing with insurance issues and wondering what kind of help they would receive from the government.

As we returned home late on Saturday night I reflected on what we had seen and experienced. The Salvation Army has brought in a number of trailers filled with clothing that residents can sort through and help themselves, along with household items and food. While there are other volunteer organizations working there, I think  Samaritan’s Purse is definitely the best organized and effective group.

I am amazed at the number of volunteers (142 in High River on Saturday) that are still showing up a month after the disaster willing to work in less than desirable circumstances. I was taken aback at the resiliency of homeowners who have lost everything and the thankfulness we were shown.

*as healthcare workers, the homeowners were mandated to work by their employers

.