Wednesday, September 30, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 6

today i met an amazing couple.

here is their story:

meet dwaine and krystal mitchell
looking at this picture you would never know that in the last 30 days krystal has given birth to their second child, that they evacuated their flooding home by boat, or that they have lost everything they own; including both vehicles and their home.

it seems like everyone i meet from the smalltown of austell, ga is the same. they might loose everything, but as long as they have their families and their faith they are optimistic and very thankful for what they have.

theirs is an amazing story:
they were both home last monday with their children, ages 3 1/2 years and 1 month old, when sweetwater creek that runs behind their home started over flowing. the creek that is normally 3 feet rose to 30 feet that day. the rain started to raise about 1 ft every hour and before they noticed they were stranded in their home, not able to drive anywhere and with a newborn and toddler.

dwaine frantically dialed 911 and all of the city emergency numbers he could think of while krystal called out of town family and asked them to look online for people to call in town to help them. she also gathered up a few things in a suitcase for her and the kids.

eventually the fire department came by in a johnboat and told them they had to stop packing and get in now or they would have to come back. she handed her 3 year old daughter to the firemen, grasped her newborn baby as close to her chest as possible, stepped up on a chair and got into the boat. her 6 foot 9 husband was to large to get in the boat at the same time, so he had to wait for the next one.

he told me that it was then that he started realizing that the only things that mattered to him was what he was putting in that boat, 'his girls.' my heart absolutely ached imagining how hard it would be to put everything that means the world to you onto a boat in pouring rain and you couldn't go.

the boat did come back for him and their 10 year old cocker spaniel and it took them to a part of the neighborhood that hadn't flooded...yet. (he guesses that 140/180 homes did end up flooding) but getting off the boat was only the beginning of their adventure. after they got out of the boat they were put in a firetruck, that stalled out in the water and actually was leaking water into the cab of the truck. this is when krystal said she started to panic.

she said her toddler didnt shed a tear though. they said they have always preached to their daughter that things dont matter, they can be replaced. family is what matters...and that is all they have now.

they said they dont know what they will do with their home now since the housing market has decreased the value of their home, they have to weigh the risk of taking out more debt on a home that isnt worth what they once paid for it. this is what all of their neighbors are all going through, and since dwaine is the president of the neighborhoods homeowners association he also has a lot more on this plate.

'this is our reality,' dwaine said. 'we are all going through the same thing, we are just trying to help each other out.'

the mitchells were nice enough to give us a tour of what their home looks like now before they had a chance to even take anything out. the destruction of this flood always amazes me, everything was just pushed into the front room and piled up by the force of the rushing waters. it was very hard to watch their faces as they showed us their most precious memories ruined, their house literally caving in and the worry of what to do next.

it was nice to see how the red cross has been able to help him and his neighborhood. they thanked the red cross for all that they had done for not only his family, but his whole neighborhood. he hopes that help continues to come in for everyone now that the media is do i.

dwaine is 6 foot 9 and shows us how the water levels are over 10 feet tall (he can normally reach the bottom of a 10ft basketball hoop)

if you look real close at the front of their house you can see the waterline above the garage door

things are stacked higher than my pa friend kate

the neighbors back porch.

my midnight train (in georgia)

tonight i finally made it to gladys knight's chicken and waffles to get my midnight train...which is their famous chicken and waffles.
i have been signing the song nonstop today and i couldn't wait to get there and try it out.
and it was worth the wait...
thanks for taking me there jennifer...and rescuing me when i was lost...again...

i cant wait to eat the sweet potatoe cheesecake that is in my fridge tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 5

day im starting to feel it. my cupcake chucks arent working out so hot anymore with no arch support to be running around town so i headed to the mall and marshall's after work on search for comfortable shoes...
ended up with some awesome saucony's for $29.99 woot! my feet will thank me tomorrow im sure.
today i went out to austell again.
i swear i will know the whole town by the time i leave.
today i went to gather partnership and client stories on video and photo with kate the other pa gal.
she has been working in the office non-stop so im glad she could wander town with me today.
we visited with two sweet sister in laws today about how they lost everything and how they are rebuilding.
i also pitched a bunch of tech editors (at cnn, ny times, cnet and usa today) about our cool 'going green' handheld story...but had no bites.
i will not give up cnn!! call me!!

here is some of the video we shot today (more to come)

here is the story i did today to go with it:

Danelle’s Disaster Diaries: Picking up the soggy pieces

Martha Mask of Austell, GA may not have much, but she has her family. After five and a half feet of water raged through her home last week, Martha and her husband were lucky to get out alive with some clothes and their medications. They would later return, after flood waters receded, to find that everything they had owned was now destroyed. What she would also find is just how important family is. Not only after you have lost everything, but when you have a lot of soggy memories to clean up.

“It’s been hard, but we are surviving.” said Beatrice Bowles, Martha’s sister-in-law. Beatrice has been coming over everyday to help her brother and his wife, Martha, with the long clean up process. Her brother is legally blind and Martha has diabetes, so it is important to have people they can count on to help out when they really needed it

In just a few days they had all of the soaking wet belongings that once filled their house stacked like mountains by the side of the road. A few days later they had family and volunteers help them strip out the drywalls, floors and other rotting pieces to leave the barebones of what once was their home.

“It’s been hard, but we’re surviving,” says Beatrice. “There are a lot of people in worse shape then we are right now.” Most of Martha’s neighbor’s homes are a complete loss after the Sweetwater Creek, that is normally three feet deep, rose to heights of 30 feet last week.

“We just want to thank everyone who has come out to help us, we just hope that people will continue to support the Red Cross and all of these organizations that have come and helped us. So many people don’t realize all of the good that people do or the in-depth help you can get. Thanks to them we are as far as we are today.”

Martha and her family are just one of more than 1,200 families the Red Cross anticipates will need help as a result of this flooding. Preliminary data shows that 2, 803 homes in Georgia have been affected by the floods; 745 of which are destroyed, 760 have major damage.

“I’ve been loosing a lot of sleep, but tonight I think I’ll get a goodnights rest, cause I know everything is coming together now,” Martha added with smile.

Mobile post sent by Danelle using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

Monday, September 28, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 4

today i went out with don and ruth, two local red cross volunteers to do damage assessment.
it was quiet an eye opening experience to see how you can possibly put an assessment on destruction.
we have these neat little handheld devices now that our volunteers input all of the information into about the extent of water level, property details, etc.
before these neat gizmos paperwork would take up a lot of time.
now we can upload the info straight from the homes with the gps info...its really cool.
it was really crazy to see house after house that is a complete loss.
in some neighborhoods the water was over 20 ft tall.
you could see the water levels by the red dirt water line stain (if you look really close in my photos you can see it)
you could also tell by looking at trees because the leaves were still coated with mud.
some folks couldnt get out in time and had to be rescued by boat, so their cars are now ruined too.
it really is heartbreaking to see peoples every last belonging piled like mountains by the curb.

here is a blog story i wrote for national that ended up on their newsroom and blog today.

Beginning to Assess the Widespread Damage

Don and Ruth Krohn are not your typical tech users. Both in their late sixties, technology really isn’t their thing. Today they are out and hitting the streets in Austell, Ga., with handheld computer devices, known as Rapid Data Management Systems (RDMS), to gather damage assessments for the American Red Cross.

In the 11 years the Krohns have been volunteering with the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Red Cross the have been deployed to almost 30 disasters. Their roles vary from disaster to disaster, but this is the first time they have used ‘these high-tech gadgets’ to assist clients.

“At the end of the day is when you can see the results,”says Ruth. “You don’t see all the paperwork. You are done now when you come back in at the end of the day and you don’t have to do any other follow up after the data is sent.”

“It’s a very worth while thing,” adds Don with a chuckle saying how he only wishes that the screen was bigger.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 3

so the cnn story never happened today, but i had an awesome day anyways! (maybe tomorrow)
i went out to do a story about the bulk distribution centers that we have opened in austell, ga.
this small, but mighty town got slammed by a flood in 2005 and got an even bigger record breaking flood earlier this week.
today i met the residents, volunteers and even the mayor.
it was an honor to gather stories of the people we help.
the stories are heartbreaking, surreal and hard to hear...but i have to share them so we can raise awareness of how many people need help. this town of 8,000 has around 500 families that have lost their homes... most of them have lost everything they owned along with it including cars.
after a long day i got to go have dinner at roasters with an old college buddy/vonmaur makeup coworker, jennifer and her friend marc.
roasted chicken, mac n cheese, sweet potatoes, corn bread and sweet tea of course (when in georgia)

it was ammmmaaazing. voted atlanta's best and rightfully so.
i will definitley be going back!

below is the story i wrote today for national with the photos i shot.

Keep on Living: The faces of Austell
By Danelle Schlegelmilch

When I arrived in the quiet town of Austell, GA I didn’t really know what to expect. My mission for today was to go to the Austell Community Center, which was located in an old converted grocery store, to see how bulk distribution works. What I learned was: a flood can do a heck of a lot of damage, but it can’t crush a small town’s spirit.

When I arrived at the community center I saw families entering to find the pieces to rebuild their lives. Clean-up kits, bleach, clothing, water, ice, food and diapers were stocked on the shelves as volunteers continued to bring in items to keep this town of 8,000 going. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of these great volunteers, residents and even the city’s mayor today.

Joe Jerkins, Austell’s mayor, told me that there are more than 500 families that have been affected by the recent record-setting floods. I could tell that Joe was exhausted and hadn’t slept for days. He said that the city’s employees have been working around the clock for days to make sure everyone is being taken care of. Scott Thomas, a city council member, was also there telling me stories of how he had been directing traffic around flooded roads and rescuing pets this week. He said, “The Red Cross has been a great help. I don’t know what we would do without them.”

I also met a teenager named Kristian Hernandez whose parents’ house had more than 10 feet of water, literally filling his basement bedroom. He said he got out with his clothes but lost everything else. He came into the distribution site today to find diapers for his little brother. He said he couldn’t find them anywhere else, but was glad to see that we not only had some, but we had his size.

It was at this distribution site that I heard about ‘the house that floated down the street.’ Local residents were all a buzz about a house that had been washed down the road and I asked where I could find it. After receiving some rather non-specific directions I ventured out to try to find it.

About ten minutes into my adventure I had given up and decided to head back to the chapter in Atlanta when I accidently stumbled across the street they were talking about. As I drove to the end of this dead-end street I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was literally a house in the middle of the road. Not a mobile home – it was a ranch house that had been washed across the front yard from its brick foundation.

What I couldn’t believe even more was that the man who owned the house was sitting in a lawn chair in the driveway alone. At first I didn’t realize it was his house, since it was so far away from his driveway, but the closer I looked I noticed his house was indeed gone and all that remained of him and his wives lives was a bit of one brick wall, bits and pieces of personal items and his wives Coca-Cola collection.

The sixty-something man with long white hair smiled at me as I turned my rental car around in the street that was blocked by his house. I rolled down my window to ask him if the Red Cross had been by to help him and if he needed a clean-up kit, food or anything else. He said that he had his clean-up kit, wasn’t hungry and was doing OK.

I parked the car and began to hear the amazing story about Ron Kitchens, the man whose house had been through two floods in four years. When his house flooded in 2005 he didn’t have flood insurance, but he gutted it and rebuilt it anyways. This week when the flooding started again, he was glad he had flood insurance but didn’t know what to expect.

He and his wife got out of their house when the water started to rise and came back on Tuesday to find that their home had floated about a block across the yard and stopped in the middle of the dead end street. The washer and drier was in the front yard, tools laid out in the driveway to dry and his wives Coca-Cola collection that has survived both floods, was lined up on what once was the foundation of his home.

Ron said he won’t rebuild the house this time and that he and his wife are looking for a new place in town. As I told him how I couldn’t even imagine what they must be going through to rebuild their lives again he told me, “We are a lot luckier than some. We got out ok. You just have to keep on livin’.”

When I was leaving he got a Red Cross broom out of the clean-up kit to sweep his driveway. He smiled, chuckled and said, “Now this is the Red Cross at work. Don’t let this get you depressed.”

the tale of the moving house...

where ron kitchens house use to be

where the house floated through the yard

where it ended up (about a block down the street)

you can see the foundation with his house in the background...

what remains of his house now.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 2

today i got up bright and early got briefed on whats going on and hit the road.
i joined two nice flordia volunteers on their ERV for my first ride along.
i got to ride in the extra third seat that is in the back!
we took out 200 heater meals (self heating meals) and 20 cases of water to take out to affected areas.
we visited a mobile home park that had 109 families that were affected.
it was crazy to see the damage that a flood can do.
i could see the water line and it was about half the way up on their homes.
it was really awesome to see people smile as we pulled in to help.
one client said hes been living in his van with the clothes on his back.
he said he was glad we were there and he didnt realize that we werent a government agency and that we are funded by donor dollars.
he said he was going to start giving to us and that more people should.
it was very touching.
i then spent most of the night trying to get my own rental car since half of our pa team goes home tomorrow and we need a car.
i got a zippy little g6 and got home about 10pm to finally eat dinner.
time flies in times of disaster!
more to come tomorrow...where word on the streets (well within our pa streets) is that cnn might do a story about the cool new technology we use during disasters! keep your eyes peeled!!