Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Jana Sweeny, who has been assisting hurricane victims in Texas and Louisiana, claims her bag Saturday after arriving in Salt Lake.

Fresh from her adventures helping with disaster relief during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Jana Sweeny stepped off a plane Saturday afternoon to be greeted with rumbling gray clouds — and a rainbow arching east.

"I've been through more hurricanes and came home to rain," laughed Sweeny, 39, of Salt Lake City.

She dragged her khaki duffle bag with the bright Red Cross symbol on it from the baggage claim in Salt Lake City International Airport.

Sweeny's job with the American Red Cross is much like the calm in the storm. She helps distribute information to assist people in finding shelter, food and other aid.

Sweeny started as a volunteer 12 years ago in the Red Cross' Services to Armed Forces Division in Korea, delivering emergency messages to military members, making sure they stayed connected with families back home.

From the beginning, Sweeny was drawn to the Red Cross' mission and the idea of neutrality.

"It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, what your beliefs are or what your economic level is. We are there to help everyone," Sweeny said.

Especially overseas, people who don't speak English see the Red Cross symbol and know where to go for help. "The idea of that symbol is powerful," she said.

Sweeny left Salt Lake City on Aug. 29 and headed to the Hurricane Gustav disaster-relief operations headquarters. She stayed in Baton Rouge, La., for a week before going to New Orleans. She then made a beeline to the Hurricane Ike site in Texas.

She spent the last few days of her trip with family in Houston. Her parents' house still didn't have electricity as of Saturday.

Sweeny's last night there they made spaghetti on the gas grill. And Sweeny and her mother did their nails by candlelight — Sweeny said she didn't want to show up at the Salt Lake City airport a mess.

Her mother also bought her a new red leather purse, since she ruined hers by setting it down in the muddy water at the Hilton Hotel disaster in Clear Lake, Texas. Parts of the flooded hotel collapsed.

Sweeny says the old purse is unimportant in perspective to the thousands of people who have lost homes and other possessions.

She recalls a family of a grandmother, great grandmother and two small children. Their home was completely gone. The kids had one toy and one book each. "It's a family in a position where they can't just replace everything," Sweeny said.

The lasting effects of the hurricane are ongoing. As of Friday night, the Red Cross served 2.1 million meals and aided 11,000 people with shelter, she said.

"It's a long road to recovery," Sweeny said.

People can help the hurricane victims by volunteering, giving blood and donating money. Go to www.utahredcross.org


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com