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We hit the big red button and got in the cars

  • April 1, 2019

The emergency task force of the Møre and Romsdal branches of the Norwegian Red Cross were in a meeting to plan for the upcoming General Assembly on Saturday afternoon in March 2019 when the phone rang. The cruise ship Viking Sky with 1,373 passengers was in distress and the passengers urgently needed to be evacuated. In a very short span of time nearly 200 Norwegian Red Cross volunteers were engaged in the response. Trond Inge Larsgård was the commander of the response and he was present in the meeting when the first call came in. The call was put on speaker so everybody in the room could hear the situation and what was requested from the Red Cross emergency task force. The ship had lost motor power and was being tossed by strong winds. People on board sustained injuries being hit by loose inventory and water was flowing in through a breach in the hull. Passengers needed to be airlifted to shore by helicopter. “I know the area very well, because my grand parents are local. When I heard what was happening, I got a bad feeling. This was serious”, Larsgård tells. ”We hit the big red button and got in the car. En route we called all available resources in”. A few hours later 187 volunteers were in place, ready to respond. The evacuees were registered and provided with blankets and dry clothes. Those with minor injuries also received first aid. The time on the ship and the evacuation by helicopter itself was very frightening. Many of the passengers were showing signs of distress and needed extra support. Being welcomed, accompanied, having access to listening ears, and receiving warm hugs – in addition to tea, coffee, blankets and clothes, made all the difference, passengers said when interviewed by BBC. Trond Inge Larsgård explains: “We have volunteers trained in providing psychosocial support, and they were in the evacuation centre, in the busses taking and at the hotels in the area were some of the evacuees were quartered.” While the drama was unfolding in Norway, another meeting was taking place in Helsinki, Finland. Red Cross Societies from the entire Baltic Sea region and the IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support was gathered to prepare for disasters in the region with a special focus on disasters at sea. Supported by the European Union, the BALTPREP project aims at developing interventions in case of aquatic and other disasters and one of the outcomes is to prepare for psychosocial support.