Before April 22 Ivan and Gladys Portella had never even heard the word tornado.  Immigrants from Peru, they were not aware of the power and destructiveness of these violently rotating columns of air.  “That day there was total calm,” says Ivan with amazement, “we couldn’t even hear the birds singing.”

When the Onalaska tornado hit, they crawled under the mattress in their rented mobile home and felt the wind shaking it. “A tree fell on our house and prevented it from flying away,” Gladys reflects.  

The Portella family is temporarily staying at Camp Cho Yeh where the Red Cross is offering emergency lodging to survivors of the powerful tornado that hit Onalaska, TX, and surrounding communities in Southeast Texas. 

“The Red Cross is taking very good care of us,” Gladys explains with teary eyes, “they even arranged for transportation for my daughter to get to the hospital when she got sick and had to undergo emergency surgery.” Gladys is also battling cancer and needed access to use an electrical oxygen machine during her stay at the Red Cross Managed Campground Temporary Shelter. 

With over 1,750 health and mental health contacts during this relief operation, Red Cross volunteers make sure individuals and families have access to proper care and attention when they need them. 

While they stay at the camp working on their recovery, the  Portella family takes a daily walk and enjoys the wooded landscape near Livingston, TX. “We are very thankful to the American Red Cross,” Ivan concludes, “we would like to give back as soon as we recover: hoy por mi, mañana por ti.” While the phrase doesn’t have a perfect equivalent in English, it means “we will pay it forward.”

Tornado victims Gladys and Iván Portella stroll leisurely with their special needs grandson Dominic Linares at Camp Cho Yeh.