Katrina: Three Year Later, Volunteers Share their Stories

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

At this time three years ago, two Grand Junction Red Cross volunteers were headed to the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina had devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, destroying communities and scattering families.

11 News Reporter Jessica Zartler sat down with them on Friday to talk about what it was like at ground zero and how it touched their lives.

Peggy Radeck and Ken Topliss said they couldn't just sit and watch when they started hearing reports that a monster storm was headed towards the Gulf Coast.

That's the day they both joined the Red Cross and they still carry what they saw in that warzone today, things that drive them to keep standing up and keep volunteering.

"Utter devastation. It was just terrible, everything was torn up, everything was not where it should have been, things flying in the trees," Peggy Radeck told 11 News on Friday.

She says the sights and sounds of a hurricane battered new orleans are still fresh in her mind.

"Everything on TV and in books doesn't even come close to what it's really like, seeing total devastation."

Looking at pictures she can hardly believe what she saw during her 22 day stay volunteering. She says her heart broke with every meal she served on Thanksgiving and Christmas, millions of men women and children with no where to go.

She never knew Ken Topliss during that time. He had also just signed up with the Red cross to drive a truck through Alabama delivering supplies to displaced families--even his own.

"Some of them lost everything, but they came out alive," Topliss told 11 News on Friday.

He worked long, tough hours on unfamiliar roads, but to him, it was more than worth it.

"When you see a little kid that just needs a hug it hurts but when they come up and thank you it means a lot."

A tough man who's seen a lot in life but had trouble fighting the tears.

He worked for eight days on the Gulf Coast then suffered a heart attack but still wanted to stay.

"I didn't want to leave. I told them I'd stay but they wouldn't let me," said Topliss.

Peggy and Ken are now a team, working together wherever they're needed guided by their memories of a storm that changed a city.

"It'll never be the same. They'll rebuild but it'll never be the same New Orleans, the big easy we knew," said Topliss.

And more than a city, it changed their lives forever.

11 News asked Peggy and Ken how long they would work for the Red Cross--they both said as long as they'll let me.

The Red Cross says its always taking volunteers. For more information on how you can volunteer, click on the link below.

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