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Red Cross counselors assist Sago

The Red Cross and other groups have teams in place to serve the long-term mental health needs of the community in the aftermath of the Sago mine disaster, Red Cross workers said Wednesday.

As about 150 friends and family members of the 13 trapped miners waited together at a local church for nearly two days to learn their fate, about 100 trained Red Cross volunteers from Upshur and surrounding counties — neighbors and friends of the families themselves — stayed with them in shifts of 25 to 30. They provided crisis mental health services and coordinated other needs, like food.

On Wednesday, they stayed with the families as they saw the bodies of their loved ones.

“At this point, the families have gathered and are actually with the deceased family members,” Karen Shuster, health and safety director of the Red Cross in Clarksburg, said Wednesday afternoon. “There are Red Cross mental health providers at the scene with them to help provide any type of support they can give the families.”

Red Cross representatives were still at the Sago Baptist Church Wednesday, which had served as an impromptu shelter for the families for their two-day vigil. A candlelight vigil was held at the church Wednesday evening.

Now, the Red Cross is coordinating with other agencies — including Appalachian Community Health Center, United Mine Workers Local 501, community pastors and others — to provide for the ongoing needs of the miners’ families and neighbors, and to figure out the best way to reach those in need, said Jana Zehner, spokeswoman for the mid-Atlantic service region of the Red Cross.

“We have a critical response team arriving” probably by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Zehner said. “They’ll be focusing on the long-term mental health needs of the community, and on the mental health needs of the children in the community ... Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of mental health support needed here.”

The team members, from Parkersburg, Roanoke, Va., and other areas, are experienced in providing mental health services during emergencies, she said.

They will take their cue from the community on how best to serve those in need, she said. The mine company and local officials will be able to provide contact information for the families, she said.

Shuster said local restaurants, stores and grocers donated whatever was needed during the families’ two-day wait.

“There’s just so many [donors] we couldn’t name them all,” she said. “Food for the families, any personal hygiene items that were needed, water, blankets — they even donated little fireplaces for outside, to make little fires to sit around in the evenings.”

The Upshur County area has a very large pool of Red Cross volunteers ever since Hurricane Katrina hit in September, and 323 survivors were sheltered for a month at a military base two counties away in Preston County.

Many local residents volunteered to help the Red Cross aid the hurricane survivors.

“I’ve always had a good volunteer base, but since the Katrina disaster, we’ve trained over 400 people in disaster services,” Shuster said. “Now, they’re willing to work other disasters for us. We have been very blessed.”

To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189.


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