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Published: 8/29/2005

Area relief team scrambles to lend hand to hurricane victims

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Members of the Toledo Area Disaster Medical Assistance Team, from left, Jackie Hill, Kathy D'Amore, and Dawn Rogers, wait at Toledo Express Airport for their flight toward the storm zone. Members of the Toledo Area Disaster Medical Assistance Team, from left, Jackie Hill, Kathy D'Amore, and Dawn Rogers, wait at Toledo Express Airport for their flight toward the storm zone.
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Yesterday morning, Georgia Siebenaler was working her regular shift as a respiratory therapist at Toledo Hospital.

By late afternoon, she was flying to Memphis with other members of the Toledo Area Disaster Medical Assistance Team as part of a relief mission for the expected victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The storm, a Category 5 hurricane packing 160-mph winds over the Gulf of Mexico, was forecast to slam into New Orleans this morning with a 28-foot storm surge.

"This is the fastest we've ever been out the door," Ms. Siebenaler said as she waited at Toledo Express Airport to board a 4 p.m. flight. "This is incredible. We got our activation order at 10:30, 11 o'clock this morning, so it was real short notice."

Ms. Siebenaler was one of 35 doctors, nurses, paramedics, and support personnel from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan who were dispatched to a staging area in Tennessee to prepare relief efforts.

"We're going to be there until there's a mission assignment," said James Fenn, commander of the Toledo unit. "After that, we'll go wherever the medical necessity is."

About $800,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment were shipped by truck Saturday to Memphis, Mr. Fenn said. Using that gear, team members will set up field hospitals to treat those injured by the storm.

"We're basically an independently functioning hospital," he said.

Team members expect to be in the hurricane zone for at least two weeks.

Officials with the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross also sent help to Katrina's likely victims.

Red Cross staff member Amy Newman and John Morgenstern, a volunteer, left Saturday for Alabama in the agency's emergency response vehicle, which relief workers can use to serve meals or distribute cleanup kits.

Yesterday, local Red Cross officials were working the phones looking for other volunteers who can spare two to three weeks to help hurricane victims.

The agency expects to send 1,700 volunteers to Louisiana from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, including 15 from Toledo, said Diane Dixon, response director for the local Red Cross.

"I'm recruiting people to do mass care," Ms. Dixon said. "That's our big need, for people to feed and take care of these victims."

Tim Yenrick, executive director of the Toledo area chapter, said Red Cross relief workers will face some of the same hardships as storm victims, including sleeping in some of the 500 shelters the agency expects to open in the New Orleans area.

"It's going to be kind of a rough ride for the volunteers," he said. "They'll be in the heat, and they'll be serving people 16 hours a day."

Before going through the security checkpoint at the airport yesterday, Ms. Siebenaler asked Donald McConnaughy, a retired team member, for a few last-minute favors.

"Let the dog out," she told him. "Make sure there's chlorine in the pool. Take my kid to Tastee-Freeze."

"We'll say a prayer for you," Mr. McConnaughy said, smiling and waving good-bye.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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