From Hurricanes to Hoopa and Back Again
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
Disaster hit home in Orleans, when extreme weather led to toppled trees and a power outage in freezing weather.
Flo Lopez, the safety officer for the Karuk Tribe and a Red Cross and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructor, trained the 20-member team that helped the town weather the storm.
“We went through a heavy snowstorm, and were without power for a week,” Lopez said. “Trees were uprooting and hitting people’s houses.”
“One man said he was thought he was going to die. He had to crawl out of his home after a big oak crushed it,” Lopez said.
Lopez and her team set up a shelter, provided beds for those who’d lost their homes, and started cooking for the whole town.
“We fed anyone who wanted to eat in the community, because we knew nobody had any power,” Lopez said.
Lopez brought that knowledge and experience last week to the Hoopa Valley, to help volunteers from Hoopa AmeriCorps and Tribal Community Civilian Corps (TCCC) become CERT qualified to handle disasters.
Lopez, along with Hoopa Office of Emergency Service Director Rod Mendes, taught the team members everything from how to set up a command post and use radios to coordinate rescues, to triage and medical operations.
“If there’s a disaster, we’ll tag people based on how badly injured they are,” Lopez said, “and people who were hurt the most badly would be the first helped when emergency medical services arrived.”
The volunteers finished their CERT training on Wednesday, Jan. 16, with a simulated disaster in Hoopa.
Rescuers searched buildings for survivors, practiced medical triage, and even helped carry simulated “survivors” to a medical staging area for treatment.
Billy Peters, who works for Hoopa Forest Industries, was CERT qualified last year and was back this year – but on a stretcher this time.
“I’m just helping out,” Peters said. “Today I’m a victim.”
Team members found Peters while searching the area, and brought him to TCCC members Maureen Smith and Forrest Daniels, who bandaged his simulated wounds.
For Daniels, responding to the simulated disaster seemed easier than his experiences helping real disaster victims of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.
“I’ve already been to New York City,” Daniels said. “It was just chaos working a night shift in the Bronx.”
Teams from Hoopa did everything from unloading relief supplies from cargo planes, to operating shelters, to clearing debris and ruined insulation from houses.
Rivers Wilder, a Hualapai tribal member from Peach Springs, Arizona and a Hoopa TCCC volunteer, described one of his day to day challenges responding to Hurricane Sandy.
“Basically, I had to crawl in a tiny space under the floor to clear out the insulation,” Wilder said.
Mendes kept an eye on the teams on Wednesday, as they scrambled to find simulated survivors as part of their final training exercise.
“We need a trauma response team!” said one voice over the radio in the background.
Mendes lowered his voice and said, “They’re doing better than they think. I want them to make mistakes now, and not in a real emergency.”
Mendes said in case of a disaster or emergency in Hoopa, local CERT-qualified teams would be able to help and assist.
“We have a 50-bed field hospital we could set up too,” Mendes said.
After the training exercise, Lopez told the volunteers, “You’ve got to be ready to be called and go.”
“Like a Wildland firefighter with their red bag, where everything they have for two weeks is in that bag,” Lopez said.
Some of the TCCC volunteers will be doing just that on February 5, when a new TCCC team will be sent out to the East Coast to replace the team returning on February 4.
But at least one emergency response team will be ready in the Hoopa Valley at all times.
Tahsanchat Cooper, Hoopa AmeriCorps and TCCC program director, said “I’ll always have one TCCC team here, and AmeriCorps is always here.”