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Kindness buoys Red Cross official

She hails actions in train wreck and bomb scare

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Human kindness is the image Susan Sheehan carried home with her Thursday night, after a hectic day that included crisis intervention at both a train wreck near Wendover and a bomb scare in downtown Salt Lake City.

Sheehan directs the Salt Lake area chapter of the American Red Cross, which was called out in force early in the day after the accident between an Amtrak train with 232 passengers aboard and a freight train. A little later in the day, they were also asked to provide support services to the police and fire personnel dealing with the bomb scare and subsequent evacuation around the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse.

Meanwhile, they were busy sending a group of nurses to New York City to help in the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attack and scrambling to help Utahns find out if friends and relatives are OK back East.

Support from both the public and sister Red Cross chapters buoyed Sheehan.

"People here are amazing. It really built me back up after everything that's happened this week to see the incredible human response."

Red Cross volunteers from both Salt Lake City and Provo went to Wendover, where they worked with Amtrak and the emergency crews to gather together the passengers and assess who was injured. Because so many of the people on the train had been stranded travelers caught in the airline shutdown following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the response team included mental-health experts.

"We were worried about the reaction of the passengers; they were folks who were already stranded."

Most of the injuries were minor, and only a few were transported to hospitals. Stateline Casino sent out food and arranged to put up travel-disaster-weary passengers who opted to just stay put. Amtrak arranged to bus back to Salt Lake City a group that decided they'd just as soon fly to their final destinations and bused to Reno those who wanted to connect with buses to go home.

The Red Cross also provided services to the rescue crews at both the bomb scare and the train accident, making sure they had plenty to drink and eat and didn't stay too long on the line without a break. Salvation Army helped with that aspect of the volunteer work, called "rehabilitation" services for emergency responders.

In coming days, this chapter of the American Red Cross will do follow-up with the passengers, handing them off to local chapters as they get home, Sheehan said.

Though exhausted, the agency was happy to note that "everyone felt good about things today, though a bad thing happened. Everyone pitched in."

Because Salt Lake Red Cross volunteers were swamped, volunteers from the Ogden area came to Salt Lake City to help answer phones and work at the bomb-scare evacuation. They also continued efforts to find out what happened to loved ones in the disasters back East, Sheehan said.

So far, they've provided good news to 60 people looking for relatives and friends in New York and Washington, D.C., and they're still trying to find out about another 32 people.

Sheehan said the departure for New York City of the first group of nurses from this area will likely just be the beginning. But she doubts too many volunteers will be sent from here because there are other American Red Cross chapters much closer that can send help sooner.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com