Wakefield, Nebraska Family Finds Comfort with Red Cross Following Tornado












Written by: Liz Dorland, Communications Manager


Jerez Family Sifts Through Home

Through scattered debris in farm fields and piles of rubble, the Jerez family searched for familiar pieces of their home, a place torn apart by a massive tornado on June 16, 2014.

“When I came home, there was nothing left. I was sick,” said Clarita Roblero.

With no where to go, Clarita, her husband Carlos and their two children came to the American Red Cross emergency shelter in Wakefield, which is where I met them. At the safe shelter, the family of four joined 23 others who were also displaced and needed a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, comfort and compassion from Red Cross disaster workers.

“We feel good being in a Red Cross shelter because we don’t have any family or friends here,” said Carlos Jerez.
Jerez Family in Wakefield Shelter
Side-by-side with new-found friend and Red Cross Shelter Manager Martha Connot, the Jerez family told me they’re lucky no one was home when the tornado hit because they’re certain they would not have survived. Carlos works in Sioux City and that Monday morning, he and Clarita decided 10 year old Andie and 6 year old Reggie would also go to Sioux City for the day because Clarita had to work.

Clarita worked at the Luna Cafe in Wakefield. Even though Wakefield is only about an hour away from the Village of Pilger, Clarita said she could see the tornado rapidly close-in on the sleepy northeast Nebraska town.

“I saw the black sky, it was swirling and I saw the debris falling from the sky,” she recalled.

Clarita along with her eight Luna Cafe co-workers got into the basement moments before the tornado ripped through the building. “When I came outside, debris was still flying. I had no idea what my home looked like.”

Clarita finds a picture

Sadly, like many houses and farms in rural Wakefield, the  monstrous tornado shredded their home. The Jerez Family took  me to where their house once stood and I decided to walk the fields  with Carlos, both of us were on a  mission to find pieces of their  home that now lay in miles of farmland. Carlos told me he and his  wife came to the United States 12 years ago with nothing. They  settled in Wakefield where they both had good jobs and started t  their family. As he finished sharing their story, I watched him look  the ground and his eyes fill with tears as he realized again he would  need to start over.


I offered Carlos comfort with a hug and reminded him the Red Cross is here to help them get back on their feet.  He nodded and said, “I know. I’m grateful for the support. The Red Cross has helped us with food, clothing and given us a place to stay until we move into our new home.”


Comforting Beaver Crossing Residents

Written and edited by: Weysan Dun and Liz Dorland
Photos Credit: Randy Eshelman/American Red Cross

As sunlight glistens through wood beams and dangling insulation, Mary Ann and Ron Schernikau took a few minutes to talk with a
well-trained American Red Cross disaster action team. Along side friends and family, the Schernikau’s pick-up the pieces of their home, after a devastating tornado that ripped through their hometown of Beaver Crossing the night of May 11th.

“It was a terrible feeling to know that your home is in potential jeopardy and unable to do anything about it” recalled Mary Ann.

Schernikau Family Home

The Schernikau’s had been in York, Nebraska at their daughter’s home for a Mother’s Day celebration when they heard on the news that a tornado was approaching Beaver Crossing. Soon, they received a call from another daughter who lives in Beaver Crossing saying that her home’s garage had been destroyed by the tornado.

When Ron and Mary Ann were finally able to get back to their home, they discovered it had been severely damaged, many out-buildings on their farm were gone, and much of their farm machinery had been damaged. Their dog, Sparky, survived the tornado alone in the house. While he had been obviously terrified by the experience, thankfully, Sparky was unharmed.



Mary Ann and Ron told Red Cross disaster workers they’re “thankful no one had been hurt” and they expressed pride in how their community rallied to support each other. The Red Cross provided Mary Ann and Ron with comfort kits and clean-up kits, items they said are  “a real blessing” because supplies had been scarce in Beaver Crossing for days. More importantly, Ron said, the fact that Red Cross workers stopped in to offer assistance and encouragement was deeply appreciated.


An Unforgettable Mother’s Day Card with a Red Cross Twist

From left to right: Betty Nisly, Bree Nisly and Red Cross shelter worker Lisa Ashby.

Written and edited by: Weysan Dun & Liz Dorland

The Nisly Family lost just about everything when a large tornado roared through their Beaver Crossing, Nebraska home, including a handmade Mother’s Day card that was carefully crafted by little Bree. Knowing that her mom had really enjoyed the card, Bree made another with materials at the American Red Cross shelter in Utica.

The Nisly Family sought refuge in the Red Cross shelter after the tornado destroyed their home. Betty Nisly said they heard sirens about 10 or 15 minutes before the tornado hit and they immediately went into the basement. They emerged after the tornado had passed to find their home had been completely leveled and they had lost all their belongings. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Betty Nisly said they “really appreciated the shelter and care provided by the Red Cross.”

The American Red Cross provided assistance to the residents of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska after a tornado caused serious damage in the community on May 11, 2014. Red Cross disaster workers helped those who were impacted by the tornado with food, clothing, shelter, comfort and care.

“As soon as the storms passed, our disaster teams were in damaged communities to help. Since Sunday night, 44 well-trained Red Cross workers have provided shelter to 13 people, delivered hundreds of meals, snacks, waters to crews and homeowners who are in the clean up process,” said Jill Orton, Region Disaster Officer. “In the days and weeks to come, the Red Cross will continue working with emergency officials and local community partners to help people get back on their feet.”


Many homes in Beaver Crossing sustained damage during Sunday night's storm.

Many homes in Beaver Crossing sustained damage during Sunday night’s storm.

While the clean-up process is in full swing, many areas are still littered with debris. The Red Cross offers the following tips for those in the affected area to stay safer:

  • Avoid damaged areas as your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations and put you at further risk from the residual effects of tornadoes.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • When it is safe to return home, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes when examining your walls, doors, staircases and windows for damage.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  • Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Avoid using candles.
  • If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard.
  • Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be kept clear for emergency calls to get through.
  • Watch your animals closely. Keep all your animals under your direct control. Your pets may be able to escape from your home or through a broken fence. Pets may become disoriented, particularly because tornadoes and the heavy rains that accompany them will usually affect scent markers that normally allow animals to find their homes.

The Red Cross depends on the generosity of the American people to fulfill our mission. To help disaster victims please contact the American Red Cross redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Struck twice by tornadoes, Friend, NE couple receives comfort from the Red Cross


The Schweitzer home

In a thick haze of a cold drizzle, Kati Schweitzer’s family and friends pack up what’s left of their Friend, Nebraska home as a team of American Red Cross workers pulled into the driveway. With a smile, Kati greeted the team and said “Welcome to our home and backyard!”

Kati and Liz Dorland


Gazing at the piles of tin, clothing, and debris, Kati recalled the terrifying moments leading up to last night’s tornado. “I was standing outside and all of the sudden I saw storm chasers stop at the front of my house. The high wind suddenly stopped and it got real quiet, and the storm chaser took off. That’s when I knew it was coming.” Kati and her husband Dolen grabbed their four dogs and dove for cover in a tub in the basement bathroom as the first tornado swept over their home.


“When we came out everything was gone and it was raining in the house. I knew it was bad. My husband was standing outside and it was really cold, but then all of a sudden it got really hot and my husband said, ‘It’s here again’.” Once again, the Schweizer’s and their four dogs took shelter in the bathtub as the all too familiar roar of wind started.


With tears in her eyes, Kati looked at Red Cross’ Liz Dorland and said, “I picked up my cell phone and called my sister. I said ‘the tornado is on its way to Lincoln, it’s over my house right now. I can’t talk. I love you.’ and I hung up the phone.”


Minutes passed after the second twister passed, Dolen, Kati and the dogs emerged to a home reduced to rubble.


As family and friends load what is left of the Schweitzer home into the back of a horse trailer, Kati is happy her husband, dogs, horse, goats and chickens are all okay, knowing “stuff” can all be replaced adding “our safety is more important. We will rebuild.”


The Schweitzer’s are just one of many families that the American Red Cross will be working with over the weeks to come to rebuild lives after an unforgettable Mother’s Day tornado outbreak.

A hug goes a long way




The Power & Warmth of the Red Cross Blanket

Picture 1

After shivering in the unseasonably chilly spring air on a cold park bench, five year old Julius Owusu-Achiaw finds warmth huddled in a American Red Cross blanket in a safe Red Cross shelter. Julius and his family were one of dozens of Cedarwood Apartment residents who escaped the comforts of their homes after a fire started in a hallway on the second floor Thursday evening.

While sitting in a Red Cross shelter, Julius and his brother Evans said they had been sleeping when the fire started. “It was scary,” said 22 year old Evans.

Teams of well-trained compassionate Red Cross disaster action workers (like Harriet in the Red Cross vest below) Picture 3answered the call to help everyone who lived in the 30 unit building. Based on their needs, the Red Cross helped with food, clothing and or shelter. Disaster action workers comforted those who sough refugee with a hug and gave them hope for recovery.

American Red Cross Responds to UNO Dorm Fire

UniversityNyaguok Fal and Lanicka Clark of Nebraska-Omaha students, Lanicka Clark and Nyaguok Fal hold American Red Cross comfort kits that they received after meeting with compassionate caseworkers following a devastating fire. On Wednesday, February 26th, a team of six-well trained disaster responders answered a call to help 42 students who lived in the Scott Village Building G dorm, after a cigarette torched the building displacing them all. That night and over the following weeks, the Red Cross met one-on-one with each student who suffered a loss. Thanks to generous people who open their pocketbooks and supported Red Cross Disaster Relief, 30 students were helped. The financial assistance from Disaster Relief allowed each student to fulfill their immediate basic needs like replacing their burnt winter clothes, boots and coats. That night, Red Cross volunteers also helped the countless number of first responders, by giving them hot coffee and or a snack. In the weeks and months ahead, the Red Cross will work with UNO to help students and campus leaders prepare for another disaster, such as another dorm fire.

Communications Manager

Communications Manager

Finding Hope through the American Red Cross

Written by: Liz Dorland, Communications Manager

I believe I can say this with confidence – for most United States citizens, the thought of being separated by war from our family is simply unfathomable. I don’t know about you, but, I can’t imagine being forced to leave my mother, father, brother, sister, cousins – everyone behind just to insure my children would have a safe place to grow up. What would that look like? How would that feel? I met two women who know all too well the answers to these questions.

The pain of making that choice is visible on Nyakong Machougo face.

As tears swell in Nyakong’s eyes, the 32-year old sobbed, “I cry every time I talk about it.”

From left to right: Nyakong Machougo and Shweta Goswami.

From left to right: Nyakong Machougo and Shweta Goswami.

Nyakong’s hometown is Bentiu in South Sudan. She and her family became separated when the government stormed Bentiu “because it was rich in oil” and the fighting escalated. Nyakong was able to flee, the rest of her family couldn’t. The last news she received about Bentiu was on TV – her town was burned down. While war and genocide continue to escalate in South Sudan, she worries even more for the welfare of her family. It’s that constant fear that brought her to the American Red Cross in Omaha

Nyakong met with Shweta Goswami, a Red Cross volunteer trained in reconnecting families around the world with the help of many people. “I’m trying to find my loved ones. So I’m trying to call and can’t get in touch. I came to the Red Cross so they can help”.


Many know the Red Cross helps during times of disasters and collects blood, but the American Red Cross is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. The American Red Cross is part of a global network of other Red Cross societies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. These humanitarian agencies work together to reconnect families who have been torn apart by disaster, war or migration; it’s a process called “Restoring Family Links”.

For about an hour, Nyakong tells Shweta about her family: where they last lived, how old each person is, what color eyes they have, physical characteristics – anything that could help a caseworker with the South Sudan Red Cross find this person. Nyakong isn’t the only person searching for family. Rhoda Naylera Gatlek’s story is woefully similar.

Rhoda Naylera Gatlek works with American Red Cross caseworker Dena Howard.

Rhoda Naylera Gatlek works with American Red Cross caseworker Dena Howard.

Rhoda is from Leer, a small town in Unity State in South Sudan. For over a decade Rhoda and her family would flee on foot from the rising violence in Leer to Ethiopia (as the violence waxed and waned they would return to Leer then walk back to Ethiopia). In 1999, Rhoda, her husband and two children left South Sudan and came to Omaha. From time to time Rhoda said she would receive a phone call from her sister Anna who was still in Ethiopia. On December 17, 2013, Anna placed her last call to Rhoda. Rhoda explained that Anna again returned to Leer, “she said it was becoming very dangerous and they would need to flee (to Ethiopia). She had no money and was unsure where she would go because it was too dangerous.”


Rhoda added, “All our homes in Leer were destroyed. They were burned down.”


Just as Nyakong had done, Rhoda met with a trained Red Cross caseworker to describe her missing family members, where they had lived and handed them a picture of her sister, Anna.


Rhoda Gatlek and Nyakong Machougo work with the American Red Cross to find their family in South Sudan.

Rhoda Gatlek and Nyakong Machougo work with the American Red Cross to find their family in South Sudan.


Both women know and understand the Restoring Family Links process takes time; time for their cases to arrive in Washington D.C. before being sent to Geneva, Switzerland (home of the International Red Cross) and then on to a caseworker with the South Sudan Red Cross. While time may not be on their side, these two women say they now have hope because they came to the American Red Cross.