By Brenda R. Rincon, Coachella Unincorporated
THERMAL, Calif. — On September 19, the American Red Cross closed its emergency shelter at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal. The shelter had been put in place eight days prior, following the storm that flooded Eastern Coachella Valley trailer parks on September 11.
Community activist Eduardo Guevara, a Mecca resident, took to Facebook yesterday to voice his concerns about the seemingly abrupt departure of the American Red Cross.
Guevara wrote, in Spanish, “In reality, no one knows what happened to the shelter at Desert Mirage, or is it that no one cares about the misfortunes of these people? Yesterday (September 19) around 7 a.m. the Red Cross packed up while people were still sleeping, picked up everything and left the place. It is to be noted that it had been said that the shelter would close Monday, and then it was decided that they would stay longer, but not past Friday because the high school would be hosting the Flying Doctors. I am not aware that the people staying there had any notice before they were awoken and asked to leave.”
A petition has since been formed demanding answers from the American Red Cross:
Coachella Unincorporated submitted questions to the American Red Cross, which were answered via email by Daphne Hart, regional communications manager for the American Red Cross. A request for comment regarding the community petition was not immediately granted.
CU: Why did the Red Cross decide to close the shelter?
HART: On Sept. 11, storm-related flooding led to a lack of running water in two mobile home parks. Because people need clean water for cooking, drinking and hygiene purposes, the Red Cross opened a shelter later that day. After the boil water order was lifted, local public health officials and county emergency management determined that it was safe for people to return home. When it became apparent that local authorities declared the area safe, we began the process of closing the shelter and did so two days later on Wednesday morning. Over eight nights, Red Cross volunteers provided 358 overnight stays, served nearly 2,500 meals and snacks, distributed more than 300 kits with toiletry items and also many cleanup supplies.
CU: How many people were still staying there?
HART: Approximately 30 people were in the shelter. On Monday, Sept. 17, our volunteers, along with some other community organizations, met with the families and discussed the plans for closing the shelter. Originally, we anticipated closing the shelter on Tuesday, but we extended until Wednesday morning. Before closing, we passed out a flier to everyone staying at the shelter with a number to call if they had additional questions.
CU: Did you receive donations earmarked for the Eastern Coachella Valley? If so, how are (or were) they being used?
HART: We had a few local businesses that were kind enough to provided donations of goods and services. For example, Starbucks provided coffee and the Fantasy Springs resort provided dinner to our shelter residents each day. Those were the only donations for this particular disaster and they were used immediately.
(Guevara counters that that many other organizations made donations for the displaced families, including Fred Loya Insurance, Del Taco, Target, Coca Cola and others).
CU: Do you have any advice for the families who are still unable to return to their homes?
HART: At this point, we’re not aware of any families who have been unable to return to their homes due to damage from flood waters. But, if your home was damaged from rising flood waters, please call us at (855) 891-7325.