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Longtime Red Cross volunteers talk about being in the middle storms' aftermath

By JR Ortega
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.

Marguerite Griffin, left,  and Len Walker were volunteers for the American Red Cross for years assisting in disasters in which  residents were without power and basic goods. Being in retirement age was a key factor allowing them to volunteer at a moment's notice.

Power lines are strewn across the roadways, lifeless but still threatening.

Some trees are down, and others are twisted like contortionists.

This is what was left of Covington, La., after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast cities around the storm's epicenter in New Orleans.

Len Walker remembers those three heart-wrenching weeks in September 2005.

"You just can't imagine what it looked like," said Walker, a now 74-year-old American Red Cross volunteer.

He, along with friend and volunteer partner Marguerite Griffin, have experienced their share of disaster aftermath - from Hurricane Charlie in Florida to Hurricane Dolly in the Rio Grande Valley to even the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

It's the hurricanes that are always the hardest, the two said.

"I've been to Vietnam, and I've never seen so much destruction," Walker said.

As Red Cross volunteers, the two help with basic needs, but it's not a basic feat.

The days in a designated disaster zone are taxing, though not as difficult as it is for those who lived through the storm's fury.

Some have lost everything.

The first 48 to 72 hours after a storm is all about surveying the damage and trying to provide a sense of normalcy for those left behind.

As Red Cross volunteers, the two provide meals, water and mobilize units of volunteers in disaster areas to provide whatever assistance may be needed.

Becoming a volunteer takes many hours of training, which both have had.

In the end, it's worth it because of all the people affected.

"You feel for the people," Griffin, 86, said.

As Red Cross volunteers, both have had to work in multiple capacities in various disasters.

To be a volunteer means helping out wherever needed, from driving and handing out meals to helping people get other disaster relief that the Red Cross may not be able to provide.

After Hurricane Dolly in July 2008, the two alone helped feed more than 250 people in Harlingen, a city in the Rio Grande Valley that was flooded from the Category 2 storm's heavy rains.

Griffin, who started volunteering in 2000, has driven the emergency response vehicle, a large van with space for food and meal storage. It was not long before she was being deployed across the U.S. in cities throughout Texas to Florida.

Disaster struck close to home in 2003 when Hurricane Claudette made landfall in Port O'Connor.

"We do whatever we need to do to help," she said. "It makes you feel good to help someone."

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