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Number of Wisconsinites signing up as disaster volunteers passes Red Cross goals

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More than 2,100 Wisconsin residents have signed up to become disaster volunteers for the Red Cross since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pounded the Gulf Coast last year.

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The influx of new members represents about a tenth of all Red Cross volunteers statewide. It surpasses the state's goal of adding at least a thousand new disaster volunteers after last year's hurricanes.

Marianne Muzzi coordinates Red Cross volunteers for seven counties in south-central Wisconsin. Her own chapter has more than doubled its number of disaster responders and she sees no signs of that trend letting up.

She says even though the hurricane response is not in the national news as much as it was last fall and through the winter, people are still aware that the response is going to be going on for years.

Muzzi says this is the most sustained response from the public that she's ever seen, even surpassing the outpouring of support following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She thinks that's because the hurricanes affected such a massive region that's so close to home.

Also, she says they evoked a different response than other large-scale disasters overseas. She says it's a bit harder to think about going to Thailand, for instance, or Sri Lanka, to help individuals who've been affected by a tsunami. She says it's much easier to think, 'Well I'll drive 10, 12 hours or less and I could get there.' She says people think that's "doable."

Muzzi says disaster volunteers' jobs vary depending on their own background.

For example, a doctor or nurse who joins gets trained to practice their trade on quick notice at a disaster site, be it after a hurricane or a house fire.

Others might learn how to manage a shelter, or work one on one with disaster victims to figure out what they need to get back on their feet.

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