MARQUETTE - When Marquette resident Marty Fountain received the call asking him to travel to New Jersey and assist those whose lives had been devastated by the affects of superstorm Sandy, he didn't hesitate.
"I joined the Red Cross because they were short on volunteers," Fountain said. "It's now been four years and I haven't looked back."
Fountain, a 62-year-old corrections officer retiree, was deployed on Oct. 31 to Providence, N.J., the headquarters for the operation. Fountain drives the emergency response vehicle trucks and serves food and supplies to those in need. Volunteers are requested to stay for 21 days, with a minimum of 14 days. More than 100 ERV trucks are being deployed in the northern New Jersey area alone. Marquette volunteers are also stationed in the West Virginia area.
A neighborhood in New Jersey where storm debris has been piled along the street. (Photo by Terry Bazemore of the Savannah, Ga., chapter of the American Red Cross)
When asked to describe what he has seen and experienced thus far, Fountain paused for a few moments.
"It looks like a bomb went off," he said. "Power lines are down, trees are down everywhere, homes are totally destroyed. ... There is a lot of hugging going on right now. It's tough. Most of them, I don't think, have even fully realized what has happened."
Fountain said the first four days he was at the shelter there was no power and everyone took cold showers. Wherever they see a need, ERV trucks pull over and hand out food. One day earlier this week, they delivered 850 meals to people still without power.
Fountain said many cars, if they are not already destroyed, are out of gas, forcing people to walk. He recalled seeing hundreds of motorists trying to retrieve gasoline.
"It's incredible to go down the highway and as far as the eye can see, people waiting to get gas," he said.
Fountain said people have been fairly tolerant, with only a few incidences when some were pushing and shoving in line for food.
"Everyone is in the same boat," Fountain said. "Some haven't had a hot meal in 4 or 5 days."
A typical meal offered by the ERV trucks include hot stew, bread, vegetables and water. They try to keep the meals as nutritious as possible. A group known as the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has been traveling with a mobile workstation and cook the food that the Red Cross is delivering.
Volunteers, including Fountain, recently were able to view the damage on Staten Island, N.Y., where results of the storm include water damage, burned down homes and very little that can be repaired. The shelter where Fountain is staying was able to get power back Monday. He expects to be in New Jersey for at least another two weeks.
Things seemed to be getting better, according to Fountain, until Wednesday's snowstorm dumped six inches of wet, heavy snow and caused widespread power outages just as many were celebrating having their power turned back on. Some areas had gone more than 10 days without power.
"For every hour we were on the road yesterday, (Wednesday), we covered 10 miles," Fountain said. "That's how bad it was because of snow and power outages along the routes causing us to be redirected."
Despite the on-going disaster relief effort, Fountain said conditions are improving and everyone has been very appreciative.
"It's a good feeling to be able to help," he said. "You know that you're not immune to it yourself, anything can happen."
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org