Originally created 09/25/98

Volunteers to aid hurricane victims



The helping hands for some Caribbean families will come from Claude Wohlford and William Cox.

The two Augustans, volunteers for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, left Thursday for an Atlanta staging area, where they will be dispatched to the Caribbean to assist victims of Hurricane Georges. The men will spend up to three weeks helping families recuperate from the disaster, which caused more than $110 million in damage while moving through the Dominican Republic alone.

"You help people who have lost everything they had, worked for all their lives, and now it's gone," said Mr. Wohlford, 68, a Richmond County security officer who began volunteering for the Red Cross in 1993. Mr. Cox, 73, began working with the organization in 1996 after retiring from the Army.

As family service technicians, the men interview families affected by natural disasters and hand out vouchers the families can swap for essential staples as they rebuild their lives, Mr. Cox said.

"We're trying to help people find out what they need, and what they can get by with on an emergency basis," he said. "It helps them get off the ground and back on their feet and on the road to recovery."

Before Thursday's trip, the two men had worked in areas damaged by tornadoes in north Georgia and by floods in Ohio, Wisconsin, Vermont, and several other places, including Augusta, Mr. Wohlford said. The Georges trip will be their first trip out of the continental United States, he said.

"We don't even know where we'll be staying," said Mr. Cox, who added that the men hadn't been told which island each would aid. "We may be staying in the shelters ourselves."

Although they don't know exactly where they'll be going, the men do know what to expect once they get there, Mr. Wohlford said.

"Your hurricanes and tornadoes are by far the most destructive," he said.

That destruction takes an emotional toll upon both the affected families and the volunteers who help them, the men said.

"Most people just don't want to talk right after it happens," Mr. Wohlford said.

The men wait for victims to share their grief, Mr. Cox said, sometimes enlisting the help of volunteers trained to provide mental-health care.

"We let them talk for a little while," he said. "We do a lot of listening."

It's an emotionally tough but rewarding job, Mr. Cox said.

"It's just seeing the faces of people who three days ago were leading a normal life, and today they don't have anything at all," he said. "But so many of them just bounce back like a rubber ball, and that's great.

"It's not fun, but it's rewarding. I think I get more out of it than I put into it."