Kelowna begins recovery with help from afar

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As thousands of evacuees in the Okanagan return to their homes--and those without homes begin to consider their options on the long road to recovery--Red Cross workers from as far afield as Ontario have left the comforts of home to help in British Columbia.

A team of experienced Red Cross workers has been assembled to help those in need following the devastating fire that swept into Kelowna on August 22, destroying over 240 homes.

Phil Bond, Red Cross Service Area Manager for Kelowna, characterizes it as a national effort at a community level. "We're a committed but small team in Kelowna, but we're also part of a national society. A disaster of this magnitude can really put a strain on local Red Cross resources, exhausting staff and volunteers and interrupting the regular, necessary work of the organization," Bond explains. "It's so great that we can rely on assistance and draw expertise from staff and volunteers across the country."

Experienced disaster operations managers deployed from Ontario have come to relieve their Western Canadian counterparts who have been working flat out for weeks since this disaster began.

Skilled caseworkers with training related to dealing with emotionally-impacted people  have arrived from Calgary, and are working and learning alongside local volunteers. These caseworkers meet one-on-one with families to ensure individual needs are assessed and victims get the help they need. Jacquie Poetker from Calgary is managing the recovery centre, and has been speaking with fire-affected families.

"The shock is just wearing off for many people, and they're beginning to wonder what they will do now," says Poetker. "We've spoken to people with a full spectrum of needs. Some have lost everything-their homes, their home-based businesses, everything-and have no insurance. They are devastated and unsure where to turn."

Dozens of Kelowna-area families have already contacted the Red Cross seeking assistance, and many more are expected to come forward in the days ahead.

For those who have come so far to help, the local community spirit so evident in Kelowna has added to their experience. Poetker says community is about more than where you live. "In a disaster like this, working together to help makes you feel a part of a caring community."