A version of this story originally appeared at Coast Guard Heartland and was written by Petty Officer 2nd Ayla Kelley.
When dozens of tornados tore through the Midwest mid-November, the Coast Guard joined fellow responders with the National Guard and other state and local agencies to help the impacted communities.
The six members of Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Peoria, Ill., are usually responsible for inspections and investigations activities along the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. For the last two weeks, however, they have been going above and beyond their normal duties to help those in need.
The team has been working with impacted communities to salvage household goods while also volunteering in donation shelters and other government-run response sites.
“We first had to escort water into one of the first shelters as there was a concern about looters,” said Alan Guedesse, a civilian marine inspector.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody McLaughlin worked with a joint information center set up in Washington, Ill., answering phone calls from the public and updating social media sites with critical response information.
With the arrival of donated food and clothing at the East Peoria Event Center in East Peoria, Ill., Guedesse has spent the last few days assisting with the distribution of goods along with Petty Officer1st Class Johnathon Lowman.
“I’ve been at the shelter for three days sorting and distributing clothing, household supplies, food and hygiene items. We are receiving from Wisconsin, Iowa and even New York,” said Guedesse.
The detachment members also leant a hand to members of the Coast Guard Family. A Coast Guardsman previously stationed in Peoria still has a mother in the area whose home was severely damaged by the storm. Lowman and McLaughlin, along with Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Owens and Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Johnson, moved their the Coast Guardsman’s mother’s belongings and undamaged property to a relative’s home in Peoria.
“It’s terrible that we have to be out here to do this, but we are glad we can be here to help. This is what we do,” said Chief Warrant Officer Harry Guntheroth.
As residents are able to return to their homes to assess damage and take care of belongings, members of the unit will be helping the Illinois State Police and other local authorities escort people in and out of buildings that are structurally dangerous.
“What we’re doing is taking groups out to their property and helping them look for personal belongings. We’ve been successful with some,” said Lowman. “We only allow 30 minutes for safety and time to help everyone have a fair chance to get their stuff.”
Guntheroth anticipates he and his crew will be volunteering as needed for the next couple of weeks.
“It’s rewarding to be able to help the community any way we can and to hear some of the stories. It’s amazing some of these people even survived,” said Lowman.