The storms that have devastated roads, homes, farms and businesses in the Golden State in recent weeks have also placed tremendous stress on residents’ mental health, a Red Cross social worker from Long Island who is counseling traumatized Californians said Sunday.
Doug McNally of Northport, a volunteer with the Long Island Chapter of the American Red Cross, spent Sunday counseling people at the Merced County Fairgrounds in California's Central Valley.
“What we are seeing is water, water everywhere,” McNally said during a phone interview.
McNally, 71, arrived in California on Thursday for a 10-day deployment to communities hard hit by the storm. He said he first accompanied a team distributing cleanup supplies in the Sacramento area, providing counsel and support to residents while his colleagues provided them with tarps, shovels, rakes, and other tools.
On Sunday, he was working with residents who found shelter at one of three facilities at the Merced County Fairgrounds. Residents of Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties became eligible for federal aid Sunday after President Joe Biden declared that a major disaster exists in California, which has been pounded by storms, floods, landslides and mudslides since Dec. 27.
McNally said those forced from homes that were damaged or destroyed are exhausted and disoriented. For many, the opportunity to speak about their grief and stress is helpful, he said. It is more challenging for those struggling with post-traumatic stress, depression and other mental health challenges.
The weather in central California has not helped, McNally said.
“So much rain and gray skies,” said McNally, one of 470 trained Red Cross workers helping people impacted by the storms in California. “That is not the best environment.”
At least 19 storm-related deaths have occurred since the storms began on Dec. 27, and a 5-year-old boy remained missing after being swept out of his mother’s car by floodwaters in San Luis Obispo County.
More rain and snow fell in California this past weekend, making travel dangerous and prompting evacuation orders sparked by fears of flooding along the Cosumnes River in the Sacramento Valley, where two inches of rain were predicted. Residents of Wilton, home to about 5,000 people, were ordered to evacuate as the river continued to rise.
Bands of thunderstorms with gusty winds started Saturday in the north and spread south, with yet another atmospheric river storm following close behind Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
Another two feet of snow and gusty winds were expected in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Interstate 80, a key highway from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe ski resorts, reopened after being closed most of Saturday because of slick roads, snow and whiteout conditions. The forecast for the storm-slammed state calls for dry weather beginning Tuesday.
The California Highway Patrol rescued three people whose car slid off a rain-slicked road and ended up teetering at the edge of a cliff in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Friday. The occupants of the car "were scared for their lives and were in disbelief" when they were pulled safely from the car as the vehicle's front end hung precariously over the cliff's edge, the highway patrol said in a statement.
"We cannot stress this enough. Please ONLY drive if it's necessary," the statement said.
McNally said the number of downed trees he has seen during this latest deployment reminds him of the devastation he had during missions to Kentucky after it was battered by tornadoes and Florida after it was slammed by hurricanes.
During a stop in the Sacramento area, every mobile home in a park with 120 residents was damaged, McNally said.
“We gave them a lot of cleanup kits,” he said.
McNally urged his neighbors back on Long Island to help California by volunteering or donating money through RedCross.org.
“I could not do the work I do without the generosity of Long Islanders and others from around the country,” he said.