Local Disaster Teams Responding to Illinois Following Tornadoes

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

An American Red Cross emergency response vehicle prepares to leave Cedar Rapids on November 18, 2013. (DAVE FRANZMAN/THE GAZETTE-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Disaster workers from several American Red Cross chapters in Iowa have been dispatched to Illinois following Sunday's tornado outbreak.

Red Cross leaders on the ground in Illinois have requested all Iowa Region emergency response vehicles to arrive in Illinois as soon as possible.

The Quad Cities chapter has deployed six volunteers to central Illinois to assist with damage assessment and tornado victims.

A Red Cross spokesperson in Des Moines said ten disaster workers, both staff and volunteers, have either left for central Illinois or will soon from central and eastern Iowa.

Two volunteers from Lisbon will make their first deployment serving meals and carrying supplies in a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle.

Ken and Ann Opatz are both retired and have volunteers for about two years. They've worked local disaster response including flooding last spring. But this is their first trip that will include 10 to 14 days on the road instead of returning home each night.

Because this is new to both, they can only speculate about what they'll see. "We're excited, it's our first time, so we're real excited about going to help people. It's the reason we joined," Ken Opatz said.

The eastern Iowa contingent will also include Peter Teahen who is a veteran of 45 major disasters both in the U.S. and around the world since the late 1980's. He will become part of the Red Cross management team based in Peoria and handle public affairs and media information.

Teahen said considering the news recently, he was almost expecting to get the call to go to the Philippines. But instead of 20 hours on a plane, it's three hours in a car to Peoria.

Excluding the 2008 flooding in Iowa, this is the closest major disaster Teahen has ever worked. "It's nice to be able to be close, it's nice to be able to help neighbors but it is doing the same mission no matter where we are in the country," Teahen said.

The Salvation Army also has teams dispatched to the region to assist with disaster recovery efforts. However, a Cedar Rapids army spokesperson said local volunteers here probably won't be called until later in the week.

Most of the injuries in Illinois were reported in the Tazewell County community of Washington, where about 120 people were hurt. Some of the injuries were severe.

The storm killed three people near Brookport in southern Illinois and two others in New Minden. A sixth person died in Washington. Two people died in Michigan from storm-related injuries.

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