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Red Cross volunteers from LI help Louisiana flood victims

Craig Cooper, right, an American Red Cross volunteer

Craig Cooper, right, an American Red Cross volunteer from Smithtown, listens to Tamika Chatman and Phililp Poydras of East Baton Rouge at a shelter in Sorrento, La. The couple are sharing their experience of losing their home in the floods in south Louisiana. Virginia Hart, foreground and a Red Cross volunteer from California, listens to the conversation. Credit: Craig Cooper

As he drove through a flooded south Louisiana town, Craig Cooper saw mound after mound of destroyed belongings piled along the road.

A fouled bedroom dresser. A soaked mattress. A stuffed animal, water dripping from its paws.

Cooper of Smithtown is one of eight American Red Cross volunteers from Long Island dispatched this week to Louisiana to help residents recover from what the relief agency calls America’s worst natural disaster since superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“It’s not just the easily replaceable things, like a television set or an appliance,” Cooper, a member of the Red Cross advance public affairs team, said Friday of his trip to hard-hit Denham Springs, about 13 miles east of Baton Rouge. “You’re talking about heirlooms and things that certainly meant a lot.”

The volunteers have administered first aid, delivered hot meals and distributed shovels and batteries, among other duties. They will spend several weeks assisting displaced residents.

At least 13 people have died in the flooding, Louisiana officials said, and more than 40,000 homes have been damaged. The Red Cross said more than 4,100 people remain in shelters.

At one shelter, Mary Farrell, a registered nurse from Wantagh, worked with other volunteers to replace vital medications that people lost in the flood.

Farrell, 57, who retired as a Nassau police detective in 2015, watched in awe as flood victims helped one another cope with the disaster.

“Honestly, what has humbled me is the way they help each other, the extent they will go to watch each other’s children, to lift somebody out of bed — just the smallest acts of kindness,” she said.

The Red Cross dispatched about a thousand volunteers nationwide to Louisiana to aid relief efforts, the agency said.

Some of the Long Island volunteers are seasoned veterans who have been deployed to other flood and hurricane zones, including one close to home after Sandy struck.

Debbie Hayden, 48, a registered nurse from Garden City, is on her seventh out-of-state deployment. In Louisiana, she leads a team of nurses and emergency medical technicians who are providing 24-hour care.

“I’ve seen disasters where people are just sleeping in a cot all day,” she said. “These people are resilient. They’re moving around; they’re thinking about their next step.”

Cooper, 62, a freelance video and event producer, saw that spirit in a woman he met in the lobby of a Baton Rouge TV station, where he was preparing to give one of his many news interviews about Red Cross relief efforts.

He said the woman, an evacuee, offered a unique perspective: “Rain falls on everyone — black or white, rich or poor.”

She added: “In the end, we all see the same rainbow.

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