It did not take long since arriving in Oklahoma for Pat Eger to come face-to-face with the devastating after-effects of the series of tornadoes, heavy rainfall and flash flooding that has battered the area for the last few weeks.
Along some storm-ravaged sections of Oklahoma, piles of furniture, carpeting, mattresses and clothing litter the side of the road for half a mile. Vehicles, trailers and mobile homes have been flipped completely upside down. In one neighborhood, she said 30 roofs were torn off by a tornado and now the houses are being covered by makeshift tarps.
Ms. Eger has seen many disasters, everything from house fires to hurricanes. The 67-year-old Tucsonan volunteers with the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross and has been on more than 50 assignments during her 18 years with the chapter.
She arrived on May 12 and was stationed in Norman, 20 miles south of Oklahoma City.
Around 400 homes scattered around the southern part of Oklahoma have sustained major damage, Ms. Eger said. “When you’re looking at a neighborhood, it could be like any one of the dozen or more operations I’ve been on,” she said. “It’s just total devastation.”
The differences are more apparent when looking at the bigger picture, she said. Oklahoma has been hit with a series of storms, each one building on top of the other.
“We thought we were done, and now we’re starting up again,” she said.
This continuous pattern of storms is what prompted the American Red Cross to send in reinforcements from other states.
“Quite frankly, the workers here are tired,” said Ms. Eger, who oversees the volunteers who directly interact with those in need.
The most recent storm in Oklahoma began late Saturday night and continued on early Sunday morning, following record-breaking May rainfall amounts for many cities in the state.
Residents affected by the natural disasters are “making do.”
“Some are living in the good part of their home, tarping up the next part and waiting to rebuild and get back to normal,” Ms. Eger said. “Others know they’ve lost everything and aren’t sure where they’re going to turn, where they’re going to rebuild or how.”
“There’s not a lot of despair,” she added. “But they’re in limbo.”
Ms. Eger said she cannot explain what initially motivated her to volunteer at the Red Cross. She was a stay-at-home mom, confronted with an empty nest once her kids left for college and she wanted to repay the community.
But it is the incredible strength in the communities of those affected and the generosity of her fellow volunteers that have kept her involved for so long.
“The generosity of the American people for people they don’t know, in communities they’re not even aware of, is amazing,” Ms. Eger said. “We’re always amazed, but we’re not surprised. It’s there every time a disaster hits.”