CaN-Do Spirit impresses Alaskans in New York City

A 6 a.m. alarm clock signaled the beginning of Tuesday for Trisha Davis of Nikolaevsk. By 5:30 p.m., she was finally having her first meal of the day. Around 7 p.m., she received word her day was far from over.

That’s not unusual for Davis right now. She is currently in New York, serving as a Red Cross staff wellness nurse supervisor in response to Hurricane Sandy.

“I’m usually in bed about 11 or 11:30 p.m.,” Davis told the Homer News.

Bed would be a couch in the teacher’s lounge in the basement of the Catholic school where Davis and about 120 other Red Cross responders are currently being housed.

Davis is one of nine disaster workers deployed by the American Red Cross of Alaska. They provide nursing, help with feeding programs, support shelter
operations and work in disaster public affairs and fundraising, according to Laura Spano, development specialist with the American Red Cross of Alaska in Anchorage.

“We’re so excited for our volunteers to head over there not only to help with Hurricane Sandy victims, but they also come back with such valuable information for us here in Alaska,” said Spano.

Davis arrived in White Plains, N.Y., on Friday. On Saturday she continued to her assigned area of Long Island, south of Manhattan and Staten Island. Active with the Red Cross since 9-11, Davis’ primary concern in New York is Red Cross personnel.

“I don’t work in shelters or with people that have been impacted. I make sure that the people who go out and drive the trucks, deliver the meals, run the shelters, I make sure those people stay well,” said Davis. “I make sure if they get sick, if they need to get to a hospital, if they need medication, that that happens.”

On Tuesday, Davis said the need for her services was increasing.

“This is about the time we start getting injuries. People are getting tired. We see a lot more than we did the first few days,” she said. “Everybody is so gung-ho, they just keep pushing and pushing and get clumsy and make more mistakes.”

Getting from one location to another has been challenging, partly because of Davis’ unfamiliarity with the area.

“I have a GPS, thank God. I’d never make it without a GPS. It always gets me back, even when I have no idea where I am,” said Davis. 

Also complicating matters is the destruction caused by the storm. GPS directions to enter a freeway at one point had to be ignored and another route found when Davis found the freeway impassable.

Davis has witnessed gas lines where people are waiting four and five hours to get fuel. On Monday, the group she works with received word of an apartment building of elderly people that “didn’t have water past the fourth floor, didn’t have food, electricity and no one had been around. Thank God they were found. We did a lot of outreach with them today.” Blankets intended for runners in the New York Marathon — scheduled for Sunday but cancelled due to the storm — were given to the apartment building occupants to help provide some warmth.

“There are a lot of people in shelters. There’s one mega-shelter approaching 1,000 people,” said Davis.

Smaller shelters have been set up in schools, but those will begin closing in order for schools to reopen. Larger shelters are being accommodated on college campuses.  

Days since the storm hit, Davis said the smell of rotting vegetation is noticeable. Some of it washed in with the storm’s tidal surge. Some of it from the resulting devastation.

What stands out to Davis is the can-do attitude she has seen.

“You’d almost think these people were Alaskans,” she said. “Everybody is very busy getting rid of what’s bad and getting their places cleaned up. These people have an admirable resilience.”

Davis is quick to recognize those in Alaska who make it possible for her to help in New York. For one, there’s her husband, Chuck, who is caring for Davis’ 92-year-old mother while Davis is gone. And there’s Lynda Reed, owner of Picture Alaska art gallery, where Davis works.

“This isn’t just the Red Cross. It’s the people who make it possible, they’re the heroes that support us,” said Davis.

“We miss her, but she went off to do a needed thing,” said Reed. “That’s what she does. We’re working out little buns off to get things done. That’s what we do.”

Christina Whiting of Homer was in middle of a visit to the New York area when Hurricane Sandy struck. Where she’s staying in Brooklyn was untouched by the storm. Not so a short distance away.

“The last few days I’ve been overwhelmed emotionally. I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Whiting. “I’ve never been in a war zone or a natural disaster, but it’s weird because there are helicopters, there are tanks, there are people weeping.”

Earlier this week, Whiting made her way to an area where she offered her help.

“One woman just gave me her baby and said she had to go to the store to get groceries,” said Whiting. “I actually feel blessed to be here to participate.”

Stunned by what she’s seen, Whiting said she was in tears when a man took her by the arm and offered her a piece of pizza.

“I was so embarrassed. I said no, I don’t live there,” she said.  “But he was so kind. He took me into a store and got me some water and said, ‘It’s good you’re here. It means we won’t be forgotten.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at