How the Iowa Red Cross Now Responds to Disasters Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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DES MOINES, Iowa  —  Dozens of people were displaced from their home this morning when two large apartments caught on fire within hours of each other.

“The ceiling just kind of kind of blew up and just started billowing up smoke and everything and then just instant reaction was, grabbed my son, you know, try to alert and get out of there you know as quickly as possible,” Pleasant Hill fire victim Montae Love said.

Love saw the flames coming out of his microwave at the Pleasant Hill apartment complex around 1:30 Thursday morning.

And just a little over an hour earlier.

“First thing I heard was my son, coming in and says, I think there’s a fire in the building. And then a bunch of hollering going on outside,” Willow Park fire victim James Sheets said.

A fire broke out at the Willow Park apartment complex.

“Yeah, I’ve lost everything in there. So, what are you gonna do?” Sheets said.

That’s where the Iowa Red Cross comes in.

“We provide hope and help and hugs,” Iowa Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Robert Inouye said.

But amid the COVID-19 Pandemic…

“Well this has now become a virtual hug,” Inouye said.

Normally the red cross would send five to ten people to the scene for fires this big but on Thursday they only sent one, the rest helped the displaced people from behind a computer screen.

“The people that we want to help, we’re not able to hold and comfort them but our mission of providing immediate disaster assistance, the conversation of ‘we’re here to help and we’re here to provide some guidance and help you begin your own recovery journey after one of these events, that mission doesn’t change,” Inouye said.

The red cross set up about 10 people from the Pleasant Hill apartments and about 23 people from the Willow Park apartments in local hotels for two nights. The rest of the displaced residents chose to stay with friends or family.

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