Story by David Wickers, Red Cross volunteer

When volunteer Disaster Action Team member Patrick Kelsey answered his phone at 12:30 AM on February 16, 2016, he was told that the Red Cross was needed to respond to a burst water pipe affecting a multi-unit apartment building in Albany. As he grabbed his jacket and headed for his car, Patrick envisioned a break in an external water main, typical for the season, which may have cut off the water supply to the building. When he arrived at the scene, he discovered that an internal line had frozen and burst, causing a flow of damaging water into many apartments.

April - Pipe Burst
Water pours from the ceiling of George Law’s apartment building in Albany; February 2016

Patrick and and his fellow volunteer responders spent the next three hours interviewing residents and firefighters, and trying to find hotel rooms to shelter those who had been suddenly displaced. “Most of the local hotels were pretty much booked up,” Patrick recalls. “We ended up splitting it between two places.” That night, the Red Cross temporarily relocated seven adults and one eight-year-old child, and provided them with financial assistance for food and other necessities.

One of these apartment building residents, George Law, said he did not know what was happening at first. “It sounded like an explosion,” he said. “But there was no fire. Then the water kept running and running.” Mr. Law estimated that about three-quarters of his apartment and possessions were damaged by the flowing water. He explained that the pipe burst above an apartment that was only a few feet from his.

“The Red Cross did a wonderful job. They always do. It makes you proud” said Mr. Law. “People were dazed. The Red Cross was there, working with firefighters and trying to place people in hotels and give them vouchers for food.”

Mr. Law moved back to Upstate New York over a year ago, after spending thirty years working as a carpenter in California. He said he has seen the Red Cross in action many times, and has always been impressed with their volunteers’ level of compassion. He recalled the Red Cross response to a building collapse in Reseda during the 1994 North Ridge earthquake. “A woman was trapped. The Red Cross showed up like angels.”

Benita Law-Diao, who is George Law’s sister, has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than twenty-five years. “There is always something that makes you want to get involved,” she said about her diverse experiences in disaster response, military casework, emergency preparedness training and international committee work. “For me, it was watching what had happened during a hurricane that hit St. Croix.”

Ms. Law-Diao also lived in California for a while, and urged her brother to get Red Cross emergency preparedness training while there, just in case a catastrophe occurred. She believes this helped him through the North Ridge crisis. Based on their experiences, both brother and sister emphasize the importance of American Red Cross emergency preparedness training in mitigating injuries and damages from a disaster.

Nearly every 8 minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster like the one George Law experienced in his Albany apartment building this February. Each time the Red Cross helps a family affected by disaster, it’s the start of a new story – one in which fear turns into hope and despair turns into determination. Your support makes those stories possible. 

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