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Alaskan Red Cross volunteers aid East Coast recovery

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Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2012 12:23 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Eight Red Cross volunteers from Fairbanks, Anchorage, Homer and Wasilla are assisting with recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy, said Laura Spano, an American Red Cross Alaska development specialist in Anchorage.

Fairbanksan Alaska Otterbacher leaves early today for New Jersey where his assignment is to help bring food to people in shelters and homes.

It is Otterbacher’s third deployment to a disaster areas in as many months. In late August, he went to Baton Rouge, La., to assist with Hurricane Isaac disaster relief for three weeks. A week after his return, he was deployed to the Wasilla and Willow area where there was heavy flooding.

He spent seven days there doing disaster assessment on the flooding’s front lines and distributing disaster assistance kits to affected residents.

“I don’t think (Alaskans) realized how bad the flooding was,” said Otterbacher, who saw cabins floating down rivers.

“There were many people who lost everything.”

What most impressed Otterbacher was that flood victims didn’t try to grab as much of the relief goods as they could, but did the opposite. “Many would refuse supplies, saying ‘Give it to someone else who needs it more.’”

The Red Cross volunteer, whose background includes teaching and administering at rural schools around the state and custom home construction, packed a carry-on bag for the East Coast trip today. He usually carries only a backpack, but this time, he’s uncertain about what kind of weather he will encounter in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the length of his stay, and packed extra clothing.

Otterbacher said the Red Cross volunteer experience is by no means a vacation. He describes it as a several-week camping trip in horrible living conditions most of the time.

“It is not fun, but it is very fulfilling helping people. It is the right thing to do,” he said, adding, “You have to have the right attitude.”

On scene jobs and locations can change rapidly, he said. Otterbacher has done a variety of work, including registering people, organizing kitchens, driving trucks and hauling supplies from place to place, including returning an emergency response vehicle from Baton Rouge to Green Bay, Wis., at the end of his Hurricane Isaac stint.

Kelley McGuirk, director of disaster services for American Red Cross of Alaska, said: “This response to Sandy is just getting started. The storm has left devastation in its wake and we will be helping people for many weeks to come. This will be very costly and the Red Cross needs help now. We ask everyone to support us as we help people recover from this massive storm.”

People who want to donate to the recovery effort can visit www.redcross.org, call (800) RED-CROSS (733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations also can be sent to local Red Cross of Alaska chapter offices or Alaska chapter headquarters at 235 E. 8th Ave., Suite 200, Anchorage, Alaska, 99501. People wanting to raise group funds in response to Hurricane Sandy can contact Laura Spano at (907) 646-5410 or email her at Laura.Spano@redcross.org.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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