'Condolences': Local woman heads to NYC

The first of what could be several local Red Cross workers to be called to aid in relief efforts in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., departed for New York Friday morning.

Susan Hoffman of Mosier, a nurse and long-time volunteer with the Hood River Chapter of the American Red Cross, flew out of Portland Friday morning with 21 other Red Cross workers from around the state bound for New York. Hoffman and the others were to join Red Cross workers from the greater New York area and others beginning to stream in from around the country to help in the aftermath of the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

"We never know until we get there what our assignments are going to be," Hoffman said Thursday afternoon. She said she could be assigned to help at a shelter but, due to her experience, was more likely to be part of either a "condolences" team or an "integrated care" team. The Red Cross condolences teams accompany family members of disaster victims when they go to identify bodies and help them to make funeral arrangements. Integrated care teams visit victims in the hospital and help them with financial and other arrangements.

Hoffman said disaster response assignments usually last three weeks but given the nature of the situation in New York, she could be there longer.

Hoffman has been involved in more than 20 Red Cross disaster relief operations since 1994. Most recently she was assigned to relief efforts in Baton Rouge, La., in July after Tropical Storm Allison wreaked havoc there.

This will be the first time Hoffman has responded to a non-natural disaster. "The best I can liken it to is an earthquake, where people have no warning," Hoffman said. Like earthquake victims, the victims of Tuesday's attacks "have had their foundation taken out from under them," she said.

Hoffman doesn't know where she will be staying in New York, or many other details about her assignment. "They're calling it a hardship case," she said. "Housing is limited, there could be long commutes." Although Hoffman works with the Red Cross in a physical health services function, she said that all Red Cross volunteers wind up serving in a mental health capacity as well.

"A lot of it is letting people talk and tell their stories," she said.

Two more Hood River Chapter members, Nick Denton and Charlotte Valdivia, have been asked for their availability by the American Red Cross and may be called on as early as next week to aid in relief efforts.

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