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After a Disaster: Twelve Unexpected Things Victims Need

By Kathryn Williams for
January 9, 2013; 9:12 AM ET
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The feeling that pervades the hours and days after a natural disaster is often one of helplessness. But if anything, the devastating earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, mudslides, even a tsunami and a volcanic eruption, of the past five years--have taught us that the flip side of every disaster is the opportunity to help those around us. Every natural disaster is a reminder of humanity's extraordinary capacity for compassion and generosity.

I recently watched flood waters in my home state of Tennessee engulf entire neighborhoods. The destruction left by more than fifteen inches of rain over a three-day period was almost incomprehensible. The thing that will stick in my mind, however, will not be the sight of our downtown underwater, or news images of a building floating down Interstate 24, but the image of a neighborhood full of volunteers digging through soaking-wet trash bags, pulling couches to the curb, tearing out insulation, and delivering pizzas. I will remember the dozens of people I spoke to from all over the country at a fundraising telethon and the local businesses that donated proceeds to relief efforts. I will remember Nashville turning out for its own.

In the wake of a natural disaster--local or elsewhere--many of us wonder how we can help. The first things we turn to are the obvious: food, water, shelter, medical aid. But as relief efforts continue, there are other needs that may go unmet or unnoticed--not for lack of caring, of course. Here, a list of unexpected ways you can help in the wake of a disaster.

1. Babysitting Services

After a disaster comes the cleanup, something that Don Lauritzen, of the American Red Cross, reminds us can be hazardous, especially for children or pets. Debris may contain sharp objects or glass, and floodwater is often contaminated. Building structures may also be precarious. Offer to watch children or pets while victims investigate and clean.

2. Cameras

If those affected by a disaster hope to be covered by insurance, it will be essential for them to document the damage to their property. Chances are, their cameras were not the first things they grabbed when they evacuated or rescued belongings, so disposable cameras are a helpful donation.

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