By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – The Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming is sending disaster release responders to Kentucky to provide support and recovery assistance following a string of deadly tornadoes in the south. Some of those volunteers left from Denver International Airport on Monday.

Celeste Thompson (credit: CBS)

“I can’t deny that I’m a little bit nervous to go in there knowing that there’s going to be a lot of really overwhelming scenarios and scenes to see,” said Celeste Thompson, a volunteer from the Red Cross’ Mile High Chapter.

Thompson began volunteering with the Red Cross about a year ago. She has helped those in need during Colorado’s wildfires and most recently went to Louisiana to provide assistance following Hurricane Ida. When she saw the devastation in Kentucky, she immediately signed up to help.

“I can only imagine the emotion that the victims are experiencing there,” she told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann via Zoom, moments before boarding her flight. “I know I will be helping with the sheltering of clients who are displaced.”

(credit: CBS)

With such widespread damage, volunteers like Thompson will be supporting families with safe shelter, comfort and any medical needs in the face of one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in years. Tens of thousands of people in Kentucky are without power, and many will likely be without heat, water and electricity for a long time.

“You look around and you have so many people saying ‘How can we help?’ But it’s almost like, ‘Where do you begin?’” one survivor told CBS News.

Thompson said it begins with immediate needs like food, water and a safe place to stay. She and her fellow volunteers will also provide cleaning supplies as survivors comb through the rubble in search of any belongings. During her two-week-long deployment, Thompson said mental health support will be critical.

“It’s very traumatic and overwhelming,” she said. “When there is a steady hand nearby that you can offer and give a hug and just say ‘it’s going to be okay’…the connections you make with people is just one of the most valuable experiences a person can have.”

(credit: CBS)

The Red Cross is moving as quickly as it can to get additional volunteers, supplies and help to the hardest impacted areas. With such widespread damage, families will need support for weeks to come. Thompson said her deployment will have her away from her family for the holidays, but she said Kentucky is where she needs to be right now.

“I have a lot of personal emotions not being there for my kids and my grandkids,” Thompson said. “But, I am grateful to have their consistency of love and stability of my life, and I know they will be there when I come back. Doing something like this for two weeks is the least I can offer.”

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Kelly Werthmann