The Virgin Islands will likely receive a helping hand from one of the Red Cross’ most seasoned volunteers.
Norm Bottenberg, 78, has been involved with the organization for 60 years as a volunteer and staff member.
“That’s my cell phone, so that may be…who knows?” Bottenberg said when his phone rang.
The call in question did not turn out to be from the Red Cross, but he says he could leave as early as Monday night to help with Hurricane Irma relief. The Sammamish man was originally slated to leave for South Carolina, but due to travel issues he is likely heading to the Caribbean for two weeks.
“All dressed up and no place to go,” Bottenberg joked, explaining he is currently on standby to leave for the Virgin Islands but deployment orders could change at any moment.
There are an estimated 208,000 people currently displaced from Hurricane Irma, according to the American Red Cross. This includes about 380 people in six evacuation center in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 660 people in 23 centers in South Carolina, 40 people in 16 centers in Alabama, 6,500 people in 40 centers in Georgia, and 200,000 people in 587 evacuation centers in Florida.
“Well I’m excited. It’s kind of sad to leave home and leave what you’re comfortable with here, but it’s an opportunity to help people, to do something I enjoy doing, to test myself and to do something for somebody else,” he said. “Their lives have been turned upside down. Mine was turned upside down by my choice. Theirs wasn’t.”
Bottenberg’s first disaster aid mission was close to home: Todd Pacific Shipyards fire in 1964. He’s gone on to help with several local incidents as well as travel to large scale disasters such as Hurricane Juan, Mount St. Helens, floods in Northern California, and earthquakes in Northern Idaho.
He even met his wife Joyce, who is also a volunteer, at a training.
“At Hurricane Juan, I was there doing damage assessment by school boat in a fairly impoverished area. You come up to a person’s house, water stains on their house, and say, ‘How high was your water?’ And they’ll chat with you for a while and say, ‘Well, talk to Harry or Joe down the road, and it came up this high in his house.’ They’re more concerned with what their neighbor needs and that they get help than what they’re going to get. So it is a good humanity,” he said.
For Irma, he says he could be doing anything from serving food to cleaning toilets.
“I’m going to a shelter this time, and I may end up being the guy who just gives hugs," he said. "Who knows? I can do that. I’m a hugger.”