NEW WINDSOR -- Ten days ago, as her plane circled Miami, Lydia Walker breathed a sigh of relief. "My first impression was seeing some trees down and some roof tiles off and I thought, 'That doesn't look too bad,' " she recalls.
But the next morning she drove alone southward toward Homestead, where in the early hours of Aug. 24 the eye of Hurricane Andrew passed and the winds surrounding that eerie circle of calm topped 160 mph.
And there she saw a different picture, one that left her stunned, even after many years as head of the Cooperative Disaster Child-care Program at the New Windsor Service Center and the many other disasters throughout the world to which her job has sent her.
"I think I must have gone into a state of shock," she says. "The farther south I went, the more destruction there was. A picture I got in my mind was of a 20-mile-wide giant weedwhacker -- one of the big heavy-duty ones with a metal blade. And it had just cut the tops off of trees and houses and created a kind of whirlwind that blew houses apart."
Here on the quiet and peaceful campus of the New Windsor Service Center are the headquarters for a number of programs that respond to disasters -- some programs under the auspices of the Church of the Brethren, others under the Church World Service or the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
They sent construction teams, child-care workers and damage assessment experts to St. Croix and South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo, to Louisiana after flooding, to Kentucky and Ohio following tornadoes, to South Central Los Angeles after the riots and to projects in Brazil, Sudan and Nicaragua -- and now in the wake of Andrew, to Florida and Louisiana.
Ms. Walker, who is 54 and lives in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., oversees volunteer child-care workers who sleep on the floor of a church and get up each morning at 5:30 to be at the Red Cross centers when they open. There they watch over children while the parents wait in lines nearby to get food or water or to apply for some kind of aid.
Monica Fosler, a member of the Winfield Bible Chapel in Winfield, arrived in Florida on Tuesday for a two-week stay as a volunteer -- one of four who drove down in a group from Maryland. Two of her co-workers at the Ace Hardware in Mount Airy are filling in for her so that the Woodsboro woman could take time off from her job.
She says of the children she has worked with: "Some are quiet; some talk non-stop. Most are willing to tell you what happened to them. We have paints, play dough, books, toys. Sometimes when it's time to leave, they don't want to go."
Donna Derr, head of the Church of the Brethren Disaster Response, went to Florida last weekend to meet with Dade County zoning and building officials and to visit the construction crews working in Perrine, just south of Miami and north of Homestead.
Ms. Derr, a Westminster resident, says, "You talk about heroes -- there are lots of them out there. It affirms my belief that there's great compassion existing in our communities. Too bad it's a disaster that makes that happen."