WASHINGTON, North Carolina — When major weather events, like Florence, hit parts of the United States, aid works from across the country set up shelters – dropping jobs as CEOs, housewives, logistics managers, nurses and everything in between to help those displaced, injured and in need.
One of those workers is Teresa Abiva, of New London. She was deployed by the American Red Cross to one of the state’s 52 different shelters, spending roughly a week in Washington, North Carolina before moving closer to the South Carolina border Tuesday.
Florence, starting out as a Category 4 hurricane was eventually downgraded by the National Weather Service to a tropical depression. But that didn’t stop dangerous flooding and storm surges from tearing through large parts of North and South Carolina and Virginia. More than 1 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, with governors in all three states declaring states of emergency.
Abiva’s shelter in Washington served more than 450 people from waterfront Beaufort County, many of whom evacuated before the storm hit.
“I was originally supposed to go to Wilmington and then they diverted everybody out of Wilmington because that is where the direct (path was) and then we were sent out teams from a staff shelter in Raleigh and our team went to Washington,” she said.
Abiva, 53, is a travel nurse, and soon transitioned from doing intake and setting up cots to handling evacuees’ medical care. Working around the clock as the only nurse in the shelter for the first couple days, she handled those in need of medications or medical devices like breathing machines – on top of emergency care.
“We had several critical situations even in this particular deployment … we had somebody who actually had a stroke and I was actually the only nurse working that night, I was able to catch it early and we got him to the hospital and I’m sure that he will have a pretty good outcome because we were able to catch it very early … We had a team in the shelter of probably 12-14 people that did everything from just feeding to getting people signed in, getting cots up, keeping a schedule and keeping people informed and reuniting people with their families and it takes quite a lot of people -- it’s a very finely oiled machine, the way the Red Cross operates.”
This is Abiva’s second deployment, after serving during the California wildfires last fall. From there, she quit her job working with a major hospital system in Ohio and became a travel nurse to be able to pick up deployments at a moment’s notice.
“It was absolutely life changing,” she said of her time in California. “After that I was called to St. Thomas for the hurricanes and I just was not able to get off work again so I decided to transition. I was called after I went to California, it was just such a rewarding and amazing experience so I transitioned into a travel (nurse) position so I can deploy with the Red Cross between my travel assignments, which is great.”
She added, “It really is an honor to help people in these horrible times. It really puts things into perspective … When you really see people that are displaced and have lost everything, it makes you grateful and makes you want to (help them).”
While Washington was not in Florence’s direct path, the area did see some flooding – with waters coming within 2 to 3 miles of the shelter. Downtown, including some pharmacies, was flooded out, making Abiva’s job of getting residents’ medications more difficult at times. She said they lost power for 10 to 12 hours during the worst of the storms, and gained roughly 75 evacuees who had to be rescued by boat this past weekend.
On Monday, roughly 300 people were able to return home, with the rest being transferred to other shelters. The Red Cross closed the shelter in Washington, something Abiva admits takes an emotional toll.
“Relationship-wise with the clients, you just become so close with them,” she said. “I think, for everyone, but I’m a little biased towards the nursing part because we just are working so intimately with them, meeting their emotional needs, their personal needs, their physical needs, spiritual needs – you really, really become attached and they also to you. I have (elderly) people that I helped in California that still probably send me two or three messages a week, that still want to keep in touch with me and ask how I’m doing, tell me what’s going on in their life and how their recovery is going. That’s just another piece of it.”
As Abiva and her group traveled to a staffing office in Greenbelt for their next assignments, she knew they would more than likely be split up, after building close ties in their days together in Washington.
“You really, really develop some great relationships,” she said. “Not only relationships with the clients and evacuees but with the other Red Cross workers. These deployments for me, I have made friends all over the country and when you go through something like that with someone, you develop a pretty strong bond. I am with one person on this deployment that I was with in California and it’s just really great to come together and work again and strive towards that common goal of meeting other people’s needs and helping.”
As crews work to assess the damage left in the tropical depression’s wake, Abiva will be on this deployment through Sept. 25, before moving on to her next travel position.
While she will take new friendships with her, one scene from last Sunday will stay with her as well.
“A lot of the people in our shelter were African American and they had just the most beautiful gospel sing-along and every single person in that cafeteria, their entire being was like uplifted and their mood was heightened and it was just actually beautiful to watch them come together and just sing and worship together.”
To donate to the American Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to the Disaster Relief fund.
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