2 minute readDisaster
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A Disaster in My Own Backyard: Deploying to the Nebraska Floods Response

April standing with the Lemus family outside of a Red Cross shelter in Nebraska.

April Oppliger with the Lemus family outside of the Red Cross shelter.

When disasters happen, the American Red Cross is there to bring help and hope. This March, it was the people of my home state of Nebraska who needed the Red Cross in the wake of historic flooding.

As a Red Cross Blood Services employee, I have supported the life-changing work of the Red Cross for the past 10 years. But on Saturday, March 16 – my first day off since flood waters threatened my community – I volunteered to help with the disaster response and got to see the impact of the Red Cross firsthand.

I was assigned to a Red Cross shelter for those displaced by the floods. It was just opening that afternoon at a church in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Not long after I arrived, a family of four entered the building. They had just made the tough decision to evacuate their neighborhood – leaving behind everything but what they could fit in their car. For 8-year-old Lily Lemus, that meant that she grabbed a couple treasured toys, her cheerleading uniform and a few changes of clothes. For 15-year-old JJ Lemus, that meant packing his soccer gear and his video gaming system.

Their mom, Lisa Widman, likened the experience of leaving their home to putting a beloved pet to sleep. You know it’s time. You know it’s the right thing to do. But your heart breaks.

“You’re looking at your house. You’re walking out the door and knowing you’re probably not going to have a house anymore.”

Entering the shelter, the family’s emotions were raw while they waited to find out if flood waters would touch their home, which they were only $3,600 away from paying off. They had to make a difficult decision – spend money on a hotel, which they couldn’t afford for long, or stay at the shelter. I encouraged the family to take a few moments to rest and have something to eat while they mulled over their choices.

It wasn’t much longer before Lily would bring a cell phone to me to show me video footage a neighbor sent them of the water around their house. She burst into tears – the water was almost up to the roof. I couldn’t reassure her that everything was going to be OK, but I could hug her back and provide emotional support.

The Lemus family decided to stay at the shelter. The accommodations were simple – cots, blankets, pillows, hot meals and showers – but they helped fill JJ with a sense of safety, relief and hope.

JJ and Lily at a Red Cross shelter after the Nebraska floods.
JJ and Lily play a game at the Red Cross shelter.

“You don’t have to worry about a roof over your head or food on the table,” he said.

For Juan Lemus, the support of the Red Cross meant that his family wasn’t alone.

“You guys have been unbelievable since the moment I walked in with my family,” said Juan. “We were treated with respect, love and kindness. I’m glad I’m here with my family. You guys turned nothing into something.”

You can help provide hope and relief items, like food, shelter and other essentials for people affected by disasters big and small, by visiting redcross.org or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

April Oppliger with Lily and JJ Lemus at the Red Cross shelter after the Nebraska floods.
April Oppliger with Lily and JJ Lemus.