However, even their experiences two years ago did not prepare them for their recent trip to Oklahoma to assist with disaster relief.
“We lost a lot, but there is no comparison. I looked around and felt selfish just for trying to compare our devastation to theirs,” Amanda Hodge said.
Four members of the fire department were in Moore, Oklahoma on Memorial Day weekend, less than a week after the city and its suburbs were leveled by an EF5 tornado.
They made the trip at their own expense to deliver a travel trailer loaded with supplies and $1,850 in gift cards.
The donations were collected from Cordova residents in an effort led by 17-year-old Megan Johnson, who lost her home on April 27. More than $800 of the financial gift was raised graduation night at a booth set up at the football field prior to the ceremony.
Members of the Shawnee Fire Department gave the Cordova delegation directions to the hardest-hit areas. Shawnee was hit by a tornado on May 19, the day before the deadly EF5 struck.
Unlike in 2011, the local group had some trouble determining which storm survivors needed the supplies most. Not only were they in unfamiliar territory, but donations were also overwhelming each of Moore’s more than 100 drop-off locations.
Cordova Fire and Rescue worked in Moore on Saturday and in the outlying areas on Sunday.
In Moore, a city of 55,000, citizens were already signing the necessary paperwork to have city crews clean up the debris on their property.
In the smaller communities, people were living in tents and waiting for FEMA representatives to find them.
Their homes had been reduced to piles of rubble.
“Here (Cordova), we still had structures that were standing. They had nothing,” Hodge said. “One subdivision was nothing but bricks and toothpicks. It was like the tornado had churned it and sat it right back where it was. If it wasn’t a pile, it was simply a clean slate.”
Storm survivors were using buckets to sift through the rubble, hoping to find anything that might be salvageable.
The firefighters helped one man search for the wallet of his father-in-law, who had died in the storm. The deceased man’s daughter had asked her husband to find it because the wallet contained her baby pictures.
It was still missing when Hodge and the others finally had to move on.
Each person the group encountered had a heartbreaking story — a young couple and their infant daughter who had only lived in their house for six days before the storm struck; the head of a family of six who broke down after being handed a $25 gift card; another man who lost his house to a tornado and a fire on the same day.
The local firefighters were able to work just a few blocks of the devastation that stretched nearly 17 miles in Oklahoma.
However, they tried to make the most of their opportunity to provide hands that were willing to work, shoulders to cry on and hearts that understand a stranger’s hurt.
“It helped us more than it helped them, I think,” Hodge said.