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Local woman volunteers for Superstorm Sandy relief

Tami Martin of Cool helps run shelter in N.Y.
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Late Saturday, Tami Martin of Cool flew out of San Francisco to New York along with five other volunteers from the American Red Cross Capital Region Chapter to help provide support for the impending Hurricane Sandy.

On Monday around 5 p.m. EST, preparations for the shelter she helped to set up had been completed and as the skies darkened, rain drizzled and winds lightly picked up, she said she was “calm, cool and collected,” waiting like the rest of America to see what happens next.

About three hours later, her shelter at an elementary school in the small, upstate town of Middleburgh officially opened its doors, she said.

Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds and hurled a record-breaking 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City, roaring ashore after washing away part of the Atlantic City boardwalk, according to the Associated Press.

Just before its center reached land, the storm was stripped of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature, forecasters told the AP. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it remained every bit as dangerous to the 50 million people in its path, the AP reported.

The National Hurricane Center announced at 8 p.m. EST that Sandy had come ashore about five miles from Atlantic City.

During a phone interview with the Journal hours before the storm hit, Martin explained that after helping with a church group in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she had ramped up her training to make herself even more available to volunteer with Red Cross.

“In my heart, I’m always available to go,” Martin said.

Martin said her shelter could serve up to 100 people, with cots, blankets and ready-to-eat food and snacks that would get them through until the morning. She said she and her fellow volunteers would be doing all they can to make them comfortable, physically and emotionally.

Of the 10 relief workers, there is one medical health and one mental health professional, Martin said.

Middleburgh is about 40 miles West of Albany and about 140 miles from the Atlantic Ocean’s coastline. It experienced heavy flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011, with 6 to 9 feet of water in some places, she said. Schoharie Creek runs through the center of the town and is fed by multiple other rivers which could exacerbate any flooding, Martin said.

The village is still recovering from Irene, she said, with some damaged, boarded up and abandoned buildings still waiting to be demolished.

“When we first got here we talked to some of the locals about what happened last time and how the flood waters came in quickly, so we always have to have our exit plan,” Martin said. “Because who knows what will happen.”

She planned to contact a local restaurant owner who offered to provide the shelter with food that couldn’t otherwise be stored if power goes out, she said. That will be especially helpful if the emergency response vehicles can’t get to the shelter to bring in additional supplies, she added.

Hopefully, all goes well in Middleburgh and she will be sent to another harder-hit area, she said.

“We are hoping to get a call tomorrow morning saying the rains have subsided and the wind didn’t take too many trees down,” Martin said.

She said she will be deployed for up to three weeks.

Along with Katrina and now Sandy, Martin has been deployed to help in various capacities for Irene, Hurricane Ike, the Joplin, Mo. tornado, as well as flooding in Minnesota and Wisconsin, among other disasters, she said.

On Saturday, 18 total Sacramento-area Red Cross volunteers boarded flights east to help with the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, 12 to New York and the others to Maryland, said Dawn Lindblom, CEO of the American Red Cross Capital Region Chapter.

As of Sunday night, Red Cross had 112 shelters open in nine different states with more than 3,200 people staying over night, Lindblom said.

“Tami is a veteran volunteer, very experienced, very good at what she does,” Lindblom said. “They are tapped quite a bit.”

Back in Auburn on Monday afternoon, Gloria Quinan, originally from Danvers, Mass., said she had been in touch with family and friends all up and down the coast to get updates.

“They’re tired of me calling every time I watch CNN,” Quinan said.

Quinan also works as a travel agent out of Commercial Street’s Classic Travel, and said she has clients from Auburn that might miss their flight from San Francisco to London because planes may not be available.

However, she was hoping that storm’s potential power was being blown out of proportion.

“I’m from the east, so storms are no big deal,” she said. “And I hear the news media on every TV station is making the storm larger than maybe it will be. I called a friend in Massachusetts (Monday) morning and said ‘What’s happening there,’ and they said ‘I’m looking out the window and the sun is shining.’ We’ll see.”

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews