Volunteers Spring into Action Following Devastating Floods in Northern California

Northwest  |  July 6, 2023
Volunteers go door to door, visiting each household and distributing flyers in order to provide timely emergency relief funds and ensure that no family is left behind. Photo/Judy Liao

Written by Qionghui Liu, Xiufang Shen, Qizhen Huang, Judy Liao, Pinyao Lee
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Patrick McShane

Between December 31, 2022, and March 25, 2023, community residents in Southern and Northern California faced a dire situation. Periods of devastating rainfall caused by multiple atmospheric rivers resulted in floods and even landslides that destroyed homes, and caused tremendous heartache. Mobilizing swiftly, Tzu Chi USA volunteers conducted home visits to understand the needs of survivors and began distributing aid in the form of disaster relief cash cards, DA.AI Technology eco-blankets, and an attentive ear. 

Hastening for Relief Following Floods

Upon learning of a catastrophic levee break amid storms in Pajaro, California, Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest regional volunteers sprang to action. Overflowing rivers had breached their banks and forced nearly a thousand farmworker families to evacuate, taking shelter in local emergency centers.

Tzu Chi USA’s volunteers in Northern California immediately visited shelters, offering blankets and emergency disaster relief cash cards to those in need. In mid-April, when the floodwaters began to recede and the government allowed residents to return home, Tzu Chi volunteers drove for more than an hour to revisit the disaster area and deliver their sincere care and concern for the affected residents.

Despite the ongoing flooding, the volunteers went door to door, visiting each affected household and distributing flyers in order to provide timely emergency relief funds and ensure that no family was left behind. Along the way, they encountered a sea of soaked furniture and discarded belongings, and pressed on with their mission, their determination to help those in need strengthened even further.

The roads are still inundated with water, and everywhere volunteers look, they see furniture and belongings that had been soaked and abandoned. Photo/Judy Liao
After the disaster, the interior environment of the affected homes is shocking, with serious damage done to the structures. Walls and floors are knocked open to prevent severe mold growth. Photo/Judy Liao

Good Deeds Spread by Word of Mouth

During disaster assessment, different volunteers went to the disaster area every day, walking through the streets and alleys of the affected area. Local residents gradually became more familiar with Tzu Chi volunteers, actively approaching them to inquire about disaster relief.

Ezequiel, a young man who had received a cash card, learned about Tzu Chi’s good deeds from the families who had also received them. He recognized Tzu Chi volunteers’ signature blue and white uniform on the road and introduced himself, and explained that his family earned a living through farming. March was supposed to be the beginning of a busy season, but they couldn’t work due to the flooding. Four families in total were facing similarly steep challenges. One family had already received Tzu Chi’s cash card, while the other three families still needed help.

Whenever Tzu Chi volunteers met affected residents who were cleaning up, they were warmly invited into their homes. The environment inside the homes was shocking, with walls and floors knocked open to prevent severe mold growth. The homes were filled with waterlogged belongings waiting to be cleaned up or thrown away. In addition to the severe economic losses, these affected residents suffered from psychological trauma and needed someone to listen patiently, and the Tzu Chi volunteers were attentive listeners.

Ravl Ramvez, a local flood survivor, led the volunteers into his damaged home, where he couldn’t help but recall his recently deceased mother, and felt overwhelmed with grief. The interior of the house was in ruins, and the walls and floors needed to be demolished. But the family was trying to rebuild and repair their home, which held so many precious memories. Ravl said, “When I saw my severely damaged home, my heart was broken. But we don’t want to give up. There are too many memories here, and my mother sacrificed so much for this home.”

Volunteers plan their routes according to maps and go door-to-door to visit disaster survivors. Photo/Judy Liao

This is the house she bought with a lifetime of hard-earned savings. Without my mother's efforts, my siblings and I would not have been able to buy this home together. The flood destroyed my mother's lifelong efforts.

More Solutions Than Problems

Many houses were waiting for further repairs, and most residents still couldn’t return to their homes, which were still covered in mud. This posed challenges for the disaster relief effort. The volunteers came up with a solution and posted emergency relief flyers on the doors of affected homes. This allowed the impacted residents to quickly learn about the aid offered and apply for assistance when they returned home.

For older adults who do not speak English as their primary language, getting the help they need after tragedy strikes can be all the more frightening. During assessment, the volunteers encountered a Spanish-speaking grandmother who communicated her situation through pictures and gestures. The volunteers quickly made a phone call to a Spanish-speaking volunteer translator who could help. The grandmother‘s eyes lit up upon hearing the translator’s comforting words, and began to share her situation with ease.  

Despite the difficulties in rebuilding their homes after the disaster, the affected residents remained positive and faced the ups and downs of life with optimism

Filiberto Cartes, wearing full-body protective clothing, worked hard to move back to his home, which he had bought less than a year ago. He said, “We accept what God has given us, let nature take its course, and good things will come naturally.”

This optimistic and open-minded attitude deeply moved the Tzu Chi volunteers. The residents who had experienced the disaster were in a difficult situation, but volunteers hope that through their aid and the knowledge that their Tzu Chi family is here for them, the path to recovery will be smoother.

For older adults who do not speak English as their primary language, getting the help they need after tragedy strikes can be all the more frightening. Tzu Chi volunteers learn of one grandmother's experiences through pictures and gestures. Photo/Judy Liao
When the affected residents hear about the volunteers' mission, they warmly invite them into their homes for a visit. Photo/Judy Liao

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