A small army of people is working on recovery efforts following Tuesday’s landslides in Sitka. And as any general knows, an army marches on its stomach.
Andrew Bogar is with the Red Cross, which has been serving 100 meals, three times a day at Grace Harbor Church in Sitka.
“Yesterday was coordinating between the Salvation Army, the wonderful volunteers here at Grace Harbor Church, and we’re working on what’s essentially a feeding operation between the community who is gathering here at the church and the workers out in the field working on recovery and drainage efforts.”
Grace Harbor became the unofficial base of relief operations after family and friends of Elmer and Ulises Diaz, two construction workers lost in the slide, set up a vigil there. The church is located near Kramer Avenue, where the Tuesday morning slide rolled to a halt.
Bogar, who is a disaster relief specialist in Juneau, arrived with another Red Cross teammate at 11 PM Tuesday night. Along with three local volunteers, the team was prepared to arrange emergency shelter for neighborhood evacuees, but that proved to be unnecessary.
“The community has absorbed them — people have stayed with family and close friends, and that need has not been identified yet.”
Bogar says that the Red Cross will continue to coordinate meal service at Grace Harbor with the Salvation Army. A spokesperson at the Salvation Army reports that the organization has received a staggering amount of donations, including several thousand pounds of frozen food.
In all, there are 117 first responders, emergency personnel, and other fire department volunteers working on recovery efforts in Sitka. There are another 50 community volunteers working under fire department supervision.
Bogar says his Red Cross team will remain in Sitka “until they tell us we’re no longer needed.”
UPDATE – 11:30 AM Friday August 21, 2015
Major Turnie Wright with the Salvation Army in Sitka says his organization is “grateful for the outpouring of food.”
He says Lyle’s and Jensen’s Home Furnishings alone contributed 5,000 pounds of frozen food to the recovery effort. The donation has been stored in freezers at Big Blue (aka Sitka Salmon Shares) and the Coast Guard.
Wright understands that the dynamic of the recovery will change once all the victims have been found. It will become a clearing operation. “But even if they drop down to a crew of only 10, we will still be up there.”
Although disaster relief falls outside of the Salvation Army’s day-to-day mission, Wright has had disaster training. The Sitka landslides, however, were the largest natural disaster of his career so far.
“I was in Denver during Columbine,” he says. “They rose above their sorrow and Sitkans are doing the same thing. We are Sitka. We are strong.”