On Sunday, March 17, 2008, seven Western New York AmeriCorps members boarded a plane to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they will spend 30 days working closely with FEMA and other service organizations to help the area recover from the recent, devastating tornadoes.
The seven Buffalo-area natives selected to aid in the disaster relief effort will remain in Arkansas until April 17, 2008, specifically assisting with community outreach and rebuilding programs. The team, lead by VISTA member Mike Zier, consists of WNY Service Corps Respond Team members Angel Feliciano of Buffalo, Eric Bishop of Buffalo, James Huebbers of Sloan, Ashlee Thilk of Appleton and WNY Service Corps members Cherise Davidson of Buffalo, and Paul Smith of West Seneca. The members will work with FEMA, the St. Louis Emergency Response Team, and the Corporation for National and Community Service during their deployment. “WNY AmeriCorps and our Service Corps Respond Team is proud to work along-side such qualified service organizations to ensure the citizens of Arkansas have a support system during these trying times, “ says Mark Lazzara, Executive Director, WNY AmeriCorps.
The destructive tornadoes and severe weather began during the Super Tuesday primaries and was officially declared a Federal Disaster by FEMA on February 7, 2008. At least 58 people were killed in the outbreak of tornadoes across four states and 18 counties, with hundreds of others injured. The outbreak was the deadliest in the U.S. since May, 1985.
The Disaster Recovery Team has settled in Arkansas and initial reports are that things are going very well. Upon speaking with the members on the ground they said that they were developing great relationships with members from their sister program from St. Louis and were enjoying the experience. The team was originally deployed to assist in rebuilding efforts as a result of tornadoes; however, some members have had to switch from tornado relief to flood relief as the area was recently hit with over 12 inches of rain.