Betty Powers, the 75-year-old Peoria woman and Red Cross volunteer, arrived in San Diego late Wednesday after a long day of cancelled flights and travel chaos. She's there to help manage one of the many evacuee shelters. Instead of flying into San Diego, she flew into San Francisco, connected with a couple of volunteers from Galesburg by chance and drove to fire-ravaged southern California. She was working Thursday.
For American Red Cross volunteer Betty Powers, the heart was willing to rush to San Diego to help fire victims, but the flight schedules were weak.
Powers, who is 75 and has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1993, was scheduled to arrive in wildfire-ravaged San Diego on Wednesday in the early afternoon. She expected to be assigned to help manage one of the 24 Red Cross shelters set up to assist the thousands of people chased from their homes by the fires.
The flight into San Diego from Denver was postponed Wednesday, then canceled, Powers said.
"I thought ‘Oh my God, the smoke is too thick to fly us in there,’" she said Thursday when reached on her cell phone. "But it turned out to be airplane mechanical failure."
Powers flew instead into San Francisco, where she coincidentally connected with a couple of Red Cross volunteers from Galesburg also headed toward the firestorms. They caught a flight into San Diego, arriving about 6:30 p.m. local time. Powers had been on the move for almost 14 hours at that point.
"It was a long day," she said.
She slept on a cot in Junipero Serra High School in San Diego on Wednesday night.
Powers helped select a seven-person team to run a shelter, including Samantha Witbracht, an AmeriCorps volunteer from the central Illinois chapter, and they were awaiting an assignment Thursday afternoon. Powers has committed to stay three weeks.
A shift to on-shore winds was beginning to drive the smoke from the city, though it was still detectable in the air on Thursday.
"It still stings, but it’s getting better," Powers said.
She said officials were preparing to close QualComm Stadium as an evacuation site, sending those still in need of shelter into smaller ones in public spaces out in the community. A sense of normalcy was beginning to return, Powers said.
"There’s lots of traffic, schools and businesses are open," she said.
Red Cross services still will be needed in the area even when all the evacuees are allowed back in their homes. That’s because hundreds of people don’t have homes to return to. Almost 2,000 houses were destroyed in the fires.
Thousands of Red Cross and AmeriCorps volunteers flocked to southern California this week, including several from central Illinois besides Powers.
Maggie Steenrod and Jean Larke, both of Peoria, left Thursday. Steenrod will be assigned to work in financial and statistical information on her first time on a national relief operation. Larke has been on more than 20 Red Cross relief operations and expects an operations management assignment.
Carolyn Hughes, Red Cross disaster volunteer, and Kevin Cluskey, member of the central Illinois chapter of AmeriCorps, left Tuesday driving the chapter’s Emergency Response Vehicle and were expected to arrive today.
Jodi Bobchick and Samantha McMillan, AmeriCorps National Preparedness and Response Corps members serving with the American Red Cross in Peoria, left Thursday to work with fire victims to assess their immediate and long-term needs.
And, the Red Cross announced Thursday that nurse Karen Huber will be working in Disaster Health Services either caring for clients in shelters or in the field.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.