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Student helps in relief effort after tornado

September 28, 2006

On Monday, Sept. 18, UW-River Falls social work student Krista Erickson took part in the Red Cross effort to assist families in Rogers, Minn., after an F2 tornado devastated the town two days earlier.

The tornado struck the town late on Saturday, Sept. 16, leaving a 10-year old girl dead and many others homeless.
Erickson, a senior, is new to the Red Cross Disaster Services internship program, beginning two weeks before the tornado struck as part of a requirement for her social work degree. The internship program is not directly linked to UW-RF, but students in the past have worked in similar areas for the Red Cross as an internship.

On Sept. 18, Erickson and several other interns traveled to Rogers on behalf of the Red Cross. The interns set up an office in the Rogers City Hall, where they provided “in-take” services for families whose homes were partially or completely destroyed.

Erickson talked with families in need of a place to stay or a voucher for a night in a hotel, as well as other immediate needs. She was not given the opportunity, however, to take part in any actual clean-up activities.
“There were hundreds of volunteers there cleaning up the city,” Erickson said of the overall effort.

The majority of the assistance for families was brought to the Red Cross’ attention on Sunday following the tornado when the city’s wreckage was visible. 

“Part of me wished I had a camera,” Erickson said. “But at the same time, the families were picking up their houses on their lawns, and I don’t know if it would have been insensitive.”

The tornado took the residents of the community by surprise.

Strong storms were apparent Saturday night, but sirens failed to sound as the skies worsened.

An independent investigation is being advised by U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, D-Minn., but the National Weather Service maintains that the tornado touched down before it appeared on the radar screens.

The Red Cross released information regarding the overall damage in Rogers, listing 17 destroyed homes and 48 others with major damage.

Fortunately, the majority of the homeowners had insurance that will cover a large amount of the $15-20 million in total damages.

The tornado itself was rated an F2, meaning it sustained winds from 113-157 mph and was up to 100 yards wide. 
Witnessing the natural disaster in Rogers was Erickson’s first exposure to real mass devastation, but it did not deter her from her goals of working in the field internationally.

“It was the first disaster I had seen with my own eyes,” Erickson said. “I was overwhelmed by how close to home it was.”

Overall it was a good experience, Erickson said.  She has a passion for the services that the Red Cross offers and encourages students in any degree program to volunteer if programs like this interest them. 

Erickson chose to do her internship with the Red Cross because of its widespread efforts, both nationwide and internationally. 

“I wanted to work at an organization that was nationally known,” she said. “I really like so many different aspects of what they do.”

After graduating in May, Erickson is looking to earn her master’s degree in social work. She plans to continue working with the Red Cross in order to gain experience and be exposed to the various efforts that the Red Cross offers.