Sore and sweaty, but with spirits high, members of a Columbia County Community Emergency Response Team assisting relief efforts in Mississippi returned home Saturday evening.
Community Emergency Response Team member Gwen Wood (right) hugs Pam Tucker, Columbia County's director of emergency services, when the team returned from Gulfport, Miss., after eight days helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Photo by J. Scott Trubey
Columbia County's CERT volunteers worked 12-hour days loading relief supplies into panel trucks at the Navy Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Miss.
They said they would do it again.
"I would in a heartbeat," said Jill Harpe, who also worked in Florida last year after Hurricane Charlie. "The next disaster, I hope we have the same crew. All 13 of us worked together beautifully."
Gwen Wood, a CERT member and professor at Augusta State University, said the members' training helped them blend into the hierarchy established by the American Red Cross and other organizations offering aid.
Relief workers from Spain and Holland and a British national from Kenya made up a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in charge of the effort. Sailors from the Canadian Navy rounded out the contingent of international aid at the U.S. Navy base. A disaster team from New York, including New York City firefighters, also was present, Wood said.
The team of 13 left Georgia for the Mississippi state emergency operations center in Jackson on Sept. 9 and were deployed to Gulfport the next day.
The team relieved a Georgia Emergency Management Agency team working in Mississippi since Sept. 2. A GEMA team of 20 relieved these returning volunteers.
On Sept. 13, four days after departing for the region, team members reported to Columbia County officials, saying they needed supplies such as Gatorade, hygiene kits, cleaning supplies and tarpaulins.
In response, Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker coordinated the delivery of supplies collected by Wesley United Methodist Church. The supplies were driven to the region the next day by Martinez firefighter Wayne Allen and Pat Williams, the church's director of care. A second delivery is scheduled to depart this week.
This was the nation's first CERT deployed to Mississippi, Tucker said.
Columbia County's CERT is one of many in the country formed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Columbia County is scheduling CERT classes in January to train an additional 70 residents. There are currently 135 certified CERT members in the county. Interested applicants must be 18 or older and Columbia County residents. For more information, visit the county's Web site, www.columbiacountyga.gov.
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