McCook residents pitching in where they are needed

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Although McCook is more than 1,200 miles from New Orleans, people from this Southwest Nebraska community are finding ways to reach out to the hurricane and flood-ravaged port city at the base of the Mississippi River.

Dale Ellerton, a hydraulic technician at the Bureau of Reclamation field office in McCook, is among those on the front lines of hurricane relief. Taking temporary leave from his job in McCook, Dale is in New Orleans to assist FEMA with placement of coverings over the roofs of storm-torn homes.

"Dale's team is working 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week," his wife, Glenda, said. "He signed up for 30 days; but they are asking him to stay on for another 30 days."

One of the pleasant surprises for Dale has been the warm reception he has received from the people of New Orleans. "They have been so thankful, telling Dale how much they appreciate the help of the FEMA workers." That is in sharp contrast to reports coming out of New Orleans just after the hurricane hit and the levees broke, flooding the city.

The initial anger and abuse has turned to gratitude. "Dale has been treated well in all parts of New Orleans, whether the area is rich or poor, black or white," Glenda said.

While in New Orleans, Dale has been part of a roofing group directed by Ken Swanda, who is the brother of Marv Swanda, the manager of the Bureau's McCook Field Office. Ken, who is with the Corps of Engineers at Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota, has worked on previous emergencies. So has Dale, who helped out following Hurricane Fran 10 years ago.

Closer to home, a helping hand for hurricane victims has been extended by Dion Budke, owner of Budke Motors in McCook. Dion volunteered his assistance to the Salvation Army in Denver, training helpers to take calls and input computer data on disaster contributions at the Salvation Army's downtown headquarters. Due to the success of that effort, Dion was asked to take on additional responsibilities for the processing and organizing of relief shipments at Lowry Air Force Base. Starting as early as 6 a.m., Dion began his volunteer service Sunday, Sept. 11, and continued to help through Thursday, Sept. 15.

More help from McCook may be on the way to the Gulf Coast. "Three other members of the Bureau staff in McCook have offered their assistance," Marv Swanda said. If arrangements can be made, volunteers from here could be on the job in the Gulf Coast through the end of the year.

In terms of miles and hours, McCook and New Orleans are far apart. But in terms of helping out, volunteers from here are bringing the cities as close together as next door neighbors.

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