Tragedy gave Trudy Culley a chance to reconnect with her Southern roots last month.
The eight-year Williston Park resident and registered nurse returned Feb. 5 from a 10-day stint with the American Red Cross helping recovery efforts in southwest Georgia, where a tornado outbreak destroyed homes and killed 19 people.
As part of a crew of about 500 volunteers, Culley helped people replace medications, eyeglasses and other medical equipment lost in the storm, she said.
For Culley, a Nashville, Tennessee, native, the deployment fulfilled a longtime goal and allowed her to aid the region that raised her, she said.
“The culture and the way they do things is just something I don’t think about as just natural,” Culley said. “It did feel like going back to something that I just knew, always knew.”
Culley started volunteering with the Red Cross after Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012, she said.
She found a “natural fit” in the health services division, and has since met with victims of fires and other events in hotels and other shelters to refer them to doctors help them find their medicines, she said.
“It struck me that despite all of the infrastructure and even money, that you can be sort of held captive in your community if there’s a bad enough disaster,” Culley said.
Culley has worked at many Red Cross sites in the New York City area since Sandy struck. But her full-time job of the past 15 years — stay-at-home mother — kept her from doing a long-term deployment.
She was just starting to look for work last month when she jumped at the chance to help the recovery in Georgia, she said.
Some 31 tornadoes devastated Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana on Jan. 2, killing the most people for that month since January 1969, according to the Weather Channel.
The impact was especially large in rural southwestern Georgia, where many people live in trailer homes that were destroyed in the storm, Culley said.
The trip proved that “disasters aren’t equal opportunity,” as those residents in the worst shape got hit hardest, Culley said.
So far, 517 Red Cross workers have provided shelter for 800 people, helped 3,000 people with medical issues and served 18,000 meals in response to the Georgia tornadoes, according to the Red Cross website.
Working 12-hour days and living in four hotels in 10 days was a challenge, Culley said.
But she encouraged others to give deployment a try, or just lend a hand to the Red Cross chapter in Mineola.
“It’s very rewarding, and if you put the time in to get the training and are able to just drop into a situation and really help out, it’s very efficient if you do it the Red Cross way,” she said.