As the sun set on April 30, 2003, severe storms raced across Maryland. At last light, the strongest tornado ever recorded in the region cut a mile wide path of destruction across two counties. The twister went straight down Main Street in La Plata, Md., blasting businesses, churches and homes into splinters and casting the entire area into its darkest night. One of the buildings totally destroyed was the office of the American Red Cross. Throughout the night, Red Cross volunteers from across the state mobilized and began moving to help the stricken community. Among them were many members of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT).
As they arrived they immediately began sheltering victims, preparing breakfast for thousands, conducting a damage assessment and establishing a command post near the site of the destroyed Red Cross Chapter House. As the sun illuminated what many described as a battlefield, it also shown brightly on red crosses on vehicles and dozens of jackets moving among the debris bringing hope and comfort to a town that was no more. The rays also brightened a tattered red and white banner reattached anonymously to a twisted chapter flagpole symbolizing all would be well in the light of the new day.
The incident described, fortunately, does not happen often. However, what the Disaster Action Team members accomplished is a regular occurrence. Each day, Disaster Action Team volunteers from the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross respond to 2-3 home fires. In fiscal year 2002, they responded to more than 800 local incidents serving more than 7,000 people with in excess of $1 million in direct services. Additionally, during that fateful year they were among the first humanitarian aide workers to reach the Pentagon, Shanksville, PA and the World Trade Center. Also that year, members deployed to floods in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas; hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Guam; tornadoes in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama; as well as western state wild fires. In all, they served more than 5,462 days attending to major disasters.
This level of response is what has been since Clara Barton loaded relief wagons bound for the Johnstown Flood, and is now and will continue to be as long as volunteers such as the Disaster Action Team of the American Red Cross, Central Maryland Chapter, rise like the sun to extinguish the darkness of despair surrounding disasters.