Steamboat couple to aid Isabel victims

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Steamboat Springs residents Vic and Flo Hencken received a phone call from the Red Cross on Tuesday morning, asking them to help with disaster relief in Maryland. The Henckens board a plane today at 10:20 a.m. to fly from Hayden to Baltimore.

They are prepared for the worst because they've seen this kind of devastation before. Since retiring, the Henckens have volunteered for the Red Cross in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They responded to flood victims in Houston and people who lost their homes to a tornado in Tennessee. Most recently, they traveled to Craig after an apartment fire took the homes of 27 families.

"New York was very intense," Vic Hencken said. "Much more so than the others. Every one of those people we met was directly affected. It was a world unto its own."

The Henckens set up shop in nearby condominiums and helped people get clothes and food.

"Whatever they needed," he said. "You can't help but feel compassion for the people you meet, but you try not to internalize it too much or you couldn't do your job."

The Red Cross trains volunteers on an ongoing basis to respond, locally or nationally, to disasters. The Henckens have worked their way from basic volunteer positions in the field to more supervisory roles.

They first joined the Red Cross while living in Baltimore, and Vic Hencken received his first training there. He said he is aware of the significance of returning to Maryland to help victims recover from Hurricane Isabel.

"They don't usually call people in from this far afield, but we used to work with that chapter," he said.

This afternoon, the Henckens will land on the East Coast, where almost 1 million homes and businesses in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are without electricity after being hit by Hurricane Isabel last week.

"We will face two kinds of problems," Vic Hencken said. "The wind took the power out, but there is also flooding from the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore. I lived in the Maryland area for 30 years. Nobody was prepared for that."

The Red Cross already has set up 100 shelters in the Maryland and Delaware areas, Hencken said. "In Virginia, there is more than that."

Even as he and his wife pack to board a plane, Vic Hencken is concerned about his local chapter of the Red Cross.

"We just had a meeting about the fire in Craig," he said. "We did have an emergency, and we had 27 families, all of which needed help. A lot of people who were Red Cross volunteers showed up, but they hadn't been called in so long.

"We realized that we hadn't done enough to keep people trained. You think that (a disaster) won't happen in Steamboat, but it's not until it hits that people start looking for help. Craig just found that out in a big way."

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers, Hencken said.

For more information or a training schedule, call 1-800-HELP-NOW or visit www.coloradoredcross.org

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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