Local Sandy relief teams return home

Volunteers are returning home after lending a helping hand on the East Coast dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Local first responders say Indiana representatives had a huge turnout.

"What it says is this is a community who cares about their fellow man. They care about their fellow Americans, and when disaster strikes they're ready to leave their homes and families to go and make a difference," said Elkhart County Red Cross director Frank Connolly.

Volunteers from Elkhart County, Penn Township, and South Bend were among many from the area that traveled east, and they said the devastation was like nothing they had seen before.

Connolly said he had a friend who dealt first hand with the destruction.

"She was in her apartment when the water rushed in and her lights went off and she said I am next to Wall Street, I am next to the epicenter of the most powerful country of the world, the engine of its economy. It just went dark in the heartbeat. It illustrates the genuine power of mother nature and also demonstrates our frailty."

Another volunteer, Al "Buddy" Kirsits, the Battalion Chief at the Penn Township Fire Department said, "The salt water factor was a terrible hit because it corrodes everything. As the power came back on, fires were started, cars were auto-igniting because of the corrosion with the car batteries, and that was a real problem. Airbags were self-deploying."

Volunteers said emotions were high.

"Watching the families that lost everything they had, the children, the elderly people that were retired that lived there year-round that did not have a place to go back to and not sure when they'll have their utilities on, especially electric. Every night it was in the 30's so it was pretty hard for them, it was very sad," said Jim Lopez, another volunteer and the Operations Chief at the South Bend Fire Department.

"A lot of people say why didn't they just leave, well a lot of people this is their home, this is where they live. They want to get their life back to normal. They don't want to leave it. They want to address it and keep going. But they actually need support and help," said Kirsits.

Those volunteers were deployed for two weeks as a part of Indiana Homeland Security, and said they made a difference in their administrative work in New York. Communication was critical to their success, they said.

Connolly says he would encourage anyone to donate their time as a volunteer.

"It's an amazing feeling," Connolly said.

All of the volunteers said they would travel back on another relief mission again.

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