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ND Red Cross volunteers head to Gulf

GRAND FORKS -- Driving 24 hours and 1,500 miles to a hot, humid place to serve meals out of a truck isn't everyone's idea of a vacation.

But that is what's in store for East Grand Forks' Tom Harding, who couldn't be more excited about leaving today to volunteer with the American Red Cross as Hurricane Isaac bears down on New Orleans.

"It's a good feeling to know you're helping people in a time of need," Harding said. "Whether it's with the Red Cross or not, I've always done stuff like that. I was taught to help people who need it years and years and years ago."

Harding, 58, will be using vacation time from his job at New Flyer, a bus manufacturer in Crookston. He will join four volunteers from North Dakota, including Mason Hollifield from Grand Forks. The five are from the East Grand Forks office of the Red Cross' Minn-Kota Chapter, which encompasses eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

"It's an opportunity for us to give back," said Tom Tezel, head of the East Grand Forks office. "Around here, you compare everything to 1997. And, in the past three years, we've been helped by national response volunteers four times."

Tezel was referring to Red River Valley flooding in 1997, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and the 2011 flooding in Minot and Bismarck.

The volunteers will be operating emergency response vehicles, which mostly will be used for feeding victims and volunteers.

Tezel said more than 500 ERVs from across the country are heading for Louisiana and Mississippi to help with problems caused by Isaac.

Having worked with a volunteer fire department and a community emergency response team in other states before moving to East Grand Forks four years ago, Harding has experience with disasters.

He also is an avid storm chaser. "If I know some weather is coming in, I'll go out to look at it because I know the cloud formations," he said. "I'm proud about being called a storm chaser."

There's a good chance he will have company in New Orleans.

"A lot of Red Cross volunteers are weather junkies," Tezel said.