South Central Mississippi Chapter in Hattiesburg Continues Uninterrupted Emergency Care

February 19, 2013

By Brigitte Williams

IMG_20130214_080418_551 Chenita Wilson and Jay Vonover at Chapter Sign 02142013

A week ago this Sunday, February 10th, residents of the Gulf Coast were busy with plans to enjoy friends,  good food, fun and song during their last official parties before the start of Fat Tuesday the day before the Lent. For residents of south central Mississippi, those plans were in for an unwanted surprise.

Students at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, were enjoying a holiday for Mardi Gras with many headed south to New Orleans.  Also in the Big Easy on Sunday, Executive Director of the South Central Chapter of the American Red Cross, Jay Huffstatler. Branch Office Coordinator Chase Munro and several volunteers were in Pensacola enjoying scuba lessons. IT Area Manager, Jeremy Vonover and wife were in Brookhaven, a few hours northwest of Hattiesburg at a wedding.  Community Response Co-oordinator Chenita Wilson was enjoying family at home.  Aware of a slight risk of severe weather, with expectation for a thunderstorm or two, Chenita periodically monitored storm watchers’ conversations just in case.

Hearing an increase in chatter from storm watchers, Chenita began alerting Red Cross Disaster Responders, Ann and David Loveless of Laurel, there was a need to respond to a tornado that had hit Marion County west of Hattiesburg. This tornado, an EF1, was one of four tornadoes- an EF1, two EF2 and the EF4 packing 170 mile per hour winds that buzzed through Hattiesburg and Pearl that would change lives across four counties.

“I was in the process of heading to the Chapter to do an expanded “call down of additional responders, when Ann called to say they could see a tornado on the ground.” Chenita instructed the Loveless to return to their home for safety.   As she ended the call her husband Stokely yelled for Chenita, their four teenagers and a nephew to get into their hallway fast. He could hear the EF4 tornado headed their way. Soon all squeezed in the small space for twenty minutes until they were certain the storm was gone.

Help Can’t Wait

IT Manager Jeremy Vonover and wife were en route to Hattiesburg from Brookhaven ninety miles away.  Not quite to Hattiesburg, he was close enough to see the funnel, that was a quarter mile wide, was on the ground. “I stopped driving because I was entering the storm’s hail core,” explained Jeremy. “I could tell it was hitting structures and that it was tracking along Highway 98.” Safety permitting, Jeremy soon resumed following the tornado’s track.

Arriving at the Chapter before law enforcement had put up barricades to tornado ravaged neighborhoods he was amazed at what he was seeing.  “It was surreal seeing the destruction.” Jeremy’s adventure was not over. His wife, who had dropped him off at the chapter before continuing home, called to warn him another tornado was headed his way. Jeremy headed to the Chapter’s safe room for shelter. Two years ago, the Chapter received a grant from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) for a shelter adjacent to the chapter built to withstand tornadoes as strong as the EF4 that had just hit Hattiesburg. Fortunately for Jeremy he didn’t experience a second tornado.

Chase Munro and friends were west of Pensacola heading to Mississippi unaware of the tornado. “My grandparents called to inform me the Chapter was destroyed.” Knowing people would be in need of help, he increased his speed to get back as quickly as possible.  His race was soon interrupted as a Georgia County Sherriff’s blue lights signaled the need to stop.  After being informed of the reason of their haste, the sheriff provided official escort back to the Hattiesburg.

With her home escaping damage, Chenita knew she had to get to the office now.  Only five minutes away, she was taken aback by the view even in the dark. “The emergency truck was in the street, trailers and cars were tossed. I called my manager, Susan Lamey in Biloxi crying and screaming, “It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone!” Hearing her cries, Jeremy appeared to aid in calming her worry. “He was telling me the same thing Susan was-calm down, just calm down,” she says now laughing a bit.

Here to Help Those In Need

Even through her shock, Chenita kicked into gear. “We had to get a shelter open fast.  I wasn’t sure what the damage was, but I knew people were hurting and would need a place to stay.”

Branch Office Coordinator, Chase Munro was soon on the scene.  He, Jeremy and Chenita navigated their way through the dark and debris to knock down a garage door to the chapter to get emergency shelter and nurse kits. “It was just amazing” explained Chenita at Red Cross volunteers showed up at the chapter ready to staff shelters. “I was and am just so proud of our volunteers who came!”

Only in New Orleans for an hour or so, Executive Director Jay Huffstattler’s phone rang around 6pm with news of the tornado’s devastation. Calling off any Mardi Gras plans, Jay arrived in Hattiesburg in less than two hours. “Like the others it was unreal; our truck was destroyed in the street with the lights on inside as if it had been driven; you could smell natural gas from broken lines.”

Grabbing everything they could, and with the help of volunteers, two hours after the storm hit, the Red Cross shelter at the Forrest 361 Shelter in Hattiesburg was open by 7pm. “It was a team effort. Responders raced to the American Red Cross Warehouse to bring cots, blankets and pallets of water, since ours were destroyed in our supply trailers. Disaster Responders with their emergency trucks and volunteers came in from around Mississippi.  At 2am we were getting snacks and more supplies at Walmart,” laughs Chenita.

“Red Cross is here to serve those in need,” stated Jay. “Our team, with incredible support from the community and our volunteers across Mississippi, we were up and running as quickly as possible. With a full grasp of damage, we also have Red Crossers from around the country helping. We’re here to take care of south central Mississippi. The building is not the Red Cross”

With temporary offices in the American Red Cross Supply Warehouse in Hattiesburg, Jay promises after residents are cared for from these storms and floods from continuous rains, and time with a bit of reflection, the office at 606 Hutchinson Street will be rebuilt in the same place. Until then, because of energetic, committed workers, care and disaster relief provided by the South Central Chapter of the American Red Cross continues, uninterrupted.

Press Release: Red Cross Continues Relief Effort in Storm-ravaged Miss. Counties

February 14, 2013

HATTIESBURG, MS, THURSDAY, February 14, 2013—The American Red Cross continues relief efforts today in storm-ravaged communities throughout Central and South Mississippi.

Disaster Action Teams (DAT) are on the ground in the affected counties with additional relief workers and supplies arriving daily. Red Cross is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and local emergency managers to identify what people need most to assist them on their road to recovery.

“Red Cross is focused on meeting people’s emergency needs and continues to move volunteers, equipment and supplies into affected communities,” said Charles Blake, director of relief operations, American Red Cross. “We’re also continuing to monitor the weather patterns and rising water levels and are prepared to open additional shelters if needed.”

Red Cross has established eight Service Delivery sites where residents may receive health services, emotional support and disaster relief items. Hours of operations are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Locations are as follows:

  • Lot adjacent to the Red Cross office site, 606 Hutchinson Avenue, Hattiesburg
  • Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Office, 660 Weatherly Road, Hattiesburg
  • Dollar General Store, 121 South Main Street, Petal
  • Mt. Carmel Church, 1101 North Main Street, Hattiesburg
  • First Trinity Church, 7th and Mobile Street, Hattiesburg
  • Temple Baptist Church, Bellwood Road at Hwy. 11, Oak Gove Community
  • West Point Baptist Church, 184 Hartfield Road, Hattiesburg
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church, 900 East 8th Street, Hattiesburg

The Southern Baptist Convention and The Salvation Army are partnering with Red Cross for mobile and shelter feeding, and are on the move serving meals and distributing relief items. Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) are in affected communities delivering bulk distribution items and meals.

To find a Red Cross shelter, people can download the Red Cross Hurricane app (, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). For a list of items to bring with you to the shelter, visit The following shelters are open.

  • Forrest County 361 Shelter on Sullivan Road off Hwy. 49 South in Hattiesburg, Forrest County
  • Lamar County Community Center at 99 Central Industrial Road in Purvis, Lamar County

There are 170 trained Red Cross disaster workers are providing emotional support, food, water and emergency supplies like cleanup kits and comfort kits to people in need.

Anyone seeking assistance with disaster-related needs, should contact their local Red Cross Office, search “Red Cross Mississippi” on Facebook or follow @RedCrossMiss on Twitter. For a list of Red Cross Offices and contact numbers, visit

Read the rest of this entry »

PHOTOS: Hattiesburn, MS Tornado

February 11, 2013

Hattiesburg 6

Hattiesburg 2

Hattiesburg 4

Hattiesburg 3

VIDEO: Rhode Island HQ

February 11, 2013

Sara Smith has deployed to Providence to assist blizzard response. Here, she checks in from Providence HQ.

PRESS RELEASE: Red Cross Continues Sheltering in Wake of Blizzard

February 11, 2013

Red Cross Continues Sheltering in Wake of Blizzard

Safety Tips Offered to Help Rhode Islanders Clean Up


PROVIDENCE, R.I., February 10, 2013 – More than 140 people spent Sunday night in Red Cross shelters across Rhode Island, due to the historic blizzard that struck the state last weekend. Residents were welcomed at five shelters with a warm place to stay, as well as food and water. “The Red Cross continues working with Rhode Island state and local governments to offer shelter to those who are displaced by the storm,” said American Red Cross spokesperson Paul Shipman.”


Shipman said that shelters would remain open until power was restored and people could return home. “Locations may change as needs evolve. Call 211 for latest shelter information.”


Light snow and ice may complicate travel today. The Red Cross encouraged Rhode Islanders to use caution when driving and walking this morning. “Roads already difficult to travel because of the blizzard. Allow extra time for travel and keep plenty of distance from the vehicle in front of you. Keep an eye out for pedestrians, especially at intersections where they may have to venture into the street,” Shipman said.


For residents working to clean up at home, the Red Cross offered safety tips:

  • If shoveling, consider your physical condition, the weather and the nature of the task. Get help from a neighbor or friend and take frequent breaks and stay hydrated while working to avoid overexertion.
  • When outdoors, protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Avoid prolonged time outdoors in very cold or windy conditions.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you have symptoms of hypothermia, including confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Also seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of frostbite: these include numbness; flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration; and waxy-feeling skin.


If you are using a snow blower to clear your property, the Red Cross reminds residents that snow blowers are powerful tools and dangerous if used improperly. “Always shut down the snow blower if it becomes clogged or jammed. NEVER use your hands to clear the chute or the augers that throw the snow; use a broom or shovel handle to clear blockages instead.”


Use caution due to high snow banks and reduced visibility. Be aware of traffic as you clear driveways near the street. If you are walking, be sure to pay attention to drivers that may have less time to spot you and may not be able to stop or avoid you as easily due to slippery roads as you walk around snow banks.


Reduce the risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Clear vents and intakes of combustion equipment that vents outside, such as furnaces, gas fireplaces or dryers and other similar equipment that might be blocked by drifting snow. Blocked vents can lead to Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning, which is deadly. Be sure your vehicle’s exhaust pipe and radiator grilles are clear if running your vehicle while clearing the driveway. If running a generator, never operate it in your home, basement or garage, even with doors and windows open. Operate generators in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and with local electrical codes.




Red Cross Continues Shelter Operations, Offers Safety Information– Page 2


Other power outage safety tips from the Red Cross:

  • Running water from a faucet at a slight trickle can help prevent frozen pipes in a cold house.
  • Use flashlights or battery powered lanterns to light your way; candles are a fire hazard.


For those traveling on the roads, conditions may still be difficult in places; the Red Cross also offers reminders for safe travel:

  • If you are planning to travel, let someone know your destination and when you plan to arrive.
  • Carry a cell phone and phone charger.
  • Keep your gas tank filled to avoid development of condensation in cold weather and to offer a measure of safety if you are stranded.
  • If you become stranded, try to call for help and remain with your vehicle. It is safer to wait for help than to attempt to find it, especially in poor weather or at night.
  • If stranded, tie a piece of brightly colored fabric to your antenna or a door handle; run your vehicle’s engine 10 minutes every hour to provide heat, keep a window slightly open to allow fresh air in the vehicle; and keep moving legs and arms to stay warm.


Keep a Winter Travel Kit in your vehicle, including:

  • Snow brush
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Booster cables
  • Fire extinguisher (5 lb., A-B-C type)
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Bottled water and non-perishable high-energy foods, such as nutrition bars, raisins and peanut butter
  • Shovel
  • Flares
  • Extra clothing to keep dry
  • Sack of sand or cat litter (to use for tire traction)


Visit for more information on preparing for cold weather and other emergencies.


About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at

VIDEO: Falmouth Shelter

February 11, 2013

PHOTOS: Sheltering in the Blizzard

February 11, 2013

Fire response amidst blizzard response Fire response amidst blizzard response
Fire response amidst blizzard responseNAPS

Naval students assist Pet friendly in Falmouth Charging up

Cots Cots Cots ready for more

Comfort kits on Cape Cod


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