A Heartfelt Call to Action After a Tornado and Flooding in Maryland

Greater Washington D.C.  |  September 23, 2021
A survivor of a tornado that struck Annapolis, Maryland in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, hugs a Tzu Chi volunteer with emotion at the disaster aid distribution on September 11, 2021. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Written by Frank Chen, Chijally Tsai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

At 2:00 PM on September 1, 2021, Hurricane Ida’s path moving northeast reached Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, and generated a tornado that swept through the Greater Washington D.C. area, including Annapolis. The tornado’s speed attained a maximum of 125 miles per hour as it traveled over 11 miles, damaging more than 60 structures. Forty-seven residents had to be housed in temporary shelters while they repaired the damage to their homes.

Disaster Assessment Is Tzu Chi’s First Priority

Upon hearing the news of this destructive tornado, six volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington D.C. Region rushed to the disaster area to start evaluating the scope of damages in preparation for disaster relief distributions to begin without delay.

A Tzu Chi volunteer discusses cooperation in disaster relief with a City of Annapolis government official. Photo/Wendy Tsai

On Saturday, September 4, the volunteers, unable to contact other charity organizations, found a church mentioned in a news report as an entry point for eventual disaster relief. When they arrived at the site, they discovered that the church was closed, but there was a community center sign and map behind it. Following the directions on it, the team finally found the Tornado Resource Center and met with the disaster relief staff of the City of Annapolis government. 

After the volunteers introduced Tzu Chi, City government staff provided a map of the damage assessment status and statistics. They also shared the contact details of personnel responsible for emergency disaster services so the volunteers could get a list of assessed damages. The volunteers then met with staff from the American Red Cross and Maryland Insurance Administration. They obtained a lot of pertinent information, as well as encouragement and expectations regarding the relief effort.

After leaving the Tornado Resource Center, the volunteers immediately went to three nearby disaster areas and took pictures of the damage to 22 homes. They briefly interviewed nine homeowners who provided contact information. The volunteers also left phone numbers at four other homes for residents to follow up on their assistance needs. As for the rest of the area residents, they had moved to temporary housing.

Property in the tornado disaster area that incurred heavy damages as Hurricane Ida progressed northeast from its landfall in Louisiana. Photo/Wendy Tsai

The damages to the 22 homes the volunteers assessed varied and affected three newly built houses. It must be particularly discouraging for those homeowners as construction ended in 2021. They had only enjoyed their new homes for less than six months when the tornado descended on the area. The volunteers observed that one of the houses now titled heavily and was off its foundation, probably requiring extensive rebuilding after this catastrophe.

As it had moved through this area, the tornado swept through the air but did not hit the ground. Even so, the virulent wind had uprooted large trees. And, while some structures sustained significant roof damage due to the twister’s passage, others were left with minimal or less severe need for repair. 

In addition to roof damages, there was water in these homes, and the whole area was currently without power. Luckily, the insurance company provided generators for wind dryers to operate and dry the wet interiors as soon as possible. 

The residents shared with the volunteers how they heard windows and doors banging loudly when the hurricane’s movement hit their neighborhood. They rushed to their basements to seek safe shelter from the relentless wind and rain. However, the sides of their homes were not left untouched, incurring various degrees of damage.

The side of a home severely damaged by a tornado as Hurricane Ida moved through the region. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Relief Follows After Assessment and Preparation

Based on the September 5 disaster survey and statistics shared by the City of Annapolis government, Tzu Chi USA Greater Washington D.C. Region volunteers’ preliminary estimate was that the relief effort must provide emergency assistance to approximately 78 families. And, they established September 11 as the date of the first distribution, to be held at the Mt. Olive Community Life Center.

In addition to the region’s volunteers, Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members participated in the distribution, led by seniors of the Association. They took the lead in collecting information for the distribution and helped Tzu Chi volunteers do their preparatory work by charging the cash cards to be given out. 

On the day of the disaster relief distribution, the volunteer team split into three groups. The welcome group was responsible for greeting care recipients and, as a safety protocol to protect everyone at the event, taking their body temperatures to ensure they had not contracted COVID-19. 

The distribution group then introduced the history of Tzu Chi and its charity footprints and presented them with cash cards and gifts prepared for the event. Annapolis residents who had not heard about the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation before were delighted to learn about its missions and caring activities worldwide, grateful for the volunteers who came to help them.

“The cash cards help us rebuild our homes and make me feel grateful after the disaster and heartbreak,” shared Terrell Freeman, one of the care recipients, as he expressed his thanks for the financial support from Tzu Chi.

Denise Vauls, Facility Manager of the Mt. Olive Community Life Center, shares a touching moment with a Tzu Chi volunteer. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Finally, before everyone left, the volunteers in the third group offered them vegetarian meals that had been donated by Panda Express for the occasion. As planned, the volunteers completed the entire distribution process within 3 hours. After helping 29 families affected by the tornado, the volunteers then cleaned up the site before leaving. 

They received a heartfelt thank you from Denise Vauls, Facility Manager of the Mt. Olive Community Life Center. She shared that Tzu Chi had brought great joy and comfort to the Annapolis residents affected by this disaster. Rhonda Pindell Charles, Alderwoman on the Annapolis City Council, who also came to the distribution, equally felt the warmth of the volunteers who brought hope and strength that spread to everyone present, of a value far beyond that of the cash cards.

Care and Condolences After the Flood

Volunteers comfort disaster survivors who lost family members in the flooding. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Two days later, on September 13, Tzu Chi volunteers went to Rockville in Montgomery County, Maryland, to offer a second post-tornado distribution. The tornado two weeks before had caused severe flooding in two local apartment complexes. The floodwater had reached the ceiling on the first floors of the buildings. It also inundated mechanical rooms in the basements, leaving the upper three floors without water or electricity, thus uninhabitable. 

Volunteers went to a temporary shelter, arranged by the County Department of Health and Human Services for the residents of these flood-damaged buildings, to give them cash cards. The care recipients were very touched by Tzu Chi’s help.

Tyree Jones, one of the people displaced by the disaster, told Tzu Chi volunteers how she felt somehow uneasy when she was leaving for work in the early morning on the day of the flood. After deciding to turn back halfway, she returned home to find the entire first floor of the apartment building flooded. Luckily, her son had made it out.

Thank you to all the people who came to help us today; I didn’t expect so many people who cared. It means so much to someone who has just lost all her possessions! Thank you…

While presenting cash cards, Tzu Chi volunteers never forgot to offer a warm hug to comfort disaster survivors going through hardships. Photo/Wendy Tsai

As Tyree continued expressing her gratitude, she choked up with emotion. She kept saying “thank you,” her eyes red from tears, yet smiling as she held the $800 cash card and gifts just received.

Volunteers take the body temperature of care recipients when they arrive to ensure they’re not infected with COVID-19, thus protecting the health of everyone on site. Photo/Wendy Tsai
The distribution includes not only cash cards but also thick comforters to keep the displaced families warm. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Unfortunately, not every family got out safely. One young man, aged 19, died in the flood. Seeing his family during the distribution, volunteer Po Chu Tseng hugged the mother of the deceased and offered her heartfelt condolences to the family.

Each disaster aid distribution brings distressing and even tragic stories to the fore. For Tzu Chi volunteers, providing “compassion” and “relief,” these words locked in the very name of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, is more than offering material assistance. It means doing so with heart and bringing emotional and spiritual solace through listening attentively and being fully present, creating moments of genuine connection that transform strangers into family.

You can also join the Tzu Chi family and extend your love and care to those in need or distress by supporting our missions.

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