KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They're always there in times of trouble.
One local Salvation Army relief worker is no stranger to tough times, and now, she's headed for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. This comes only a week after her return from two weeks of volunteer service in the Houston, Texas area, where residents are contending with the aftermath of another weather-related disaster.
When it comes to disaster relief, Dee Smith is the Energizer Bunny. The Kansas City resident recently retired from full-time work with the Salvation Army, but she keeps going and going. She's worked so many catastrophic events, her peers have given her the nickname "Disaster Dee."
"Father we thank You for the opportunity to serve others," a member of Smith's traveling party could be overheard praying aloud as they prepared to depart from Kansas City International Airport.
Smith is part of a four-person contingent traveling to San Juan, including two people from Kansas City. So far, 48 Puerto Ricans have been killed after Hurricane Maria trashed that American territory. Hundreds of others are still unaccounted for.
"When I hear rain on my roof, I think of all those people who still have leaks in their roof and their siding and water coming into their house. I'm still sleeping in my nice warm bed," Smith told FOX 4 News.
"Disaster Dee" says the Puerto Rican devastation reminds her of the rubble she saw in Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake that hit that island.
"It's an insurmountable task when you think of the devastation down there," Smith told FOX 4 News.
"A lot of the beds, and couches they're sleeping on, are very wet and mold. I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of respiratory issues."
Smith says she also provided aid in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attack, and numerous other hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms. In Puerto Rico, Smith will serve at the Salvation Army's local command center, as she did only a week ago in Texas.
"There's a lot of need (in Texas)" Smith recalled. "Continuing to be a lot of need. Even though electricity is on, most of them, their appliances are sitting out at the curb. They have no way to really eat."
Salvation Army Capt. Joaquin Rangel, an officer with the service organization for 20 years, is also traveling from Kansas City to San Juan. He and Smith will rendezvous with two other relief workers in Atlanta. Capt. Rangel says Smith's leadership is inspiring to other volunteers. All told, Smith has given of her time as a relief worker for 40 years, including three years she's served since retiring from full-time employment in 2014.
"She's a great example of service. I believe that what gives her than passion is just to serve the people in the name of the Lord," Capt. Rangel said.
"She is firm. In a time of chaos, she brings order. Everyone wants to help, and that's good, but there's a system to follow so we can be effective."
"Many people don't even know where to begin when something happens to them. We're able to come in and give them support. Let them know there are other people thinking about them and praying for them, and they're there to help them," Smith said on Tuesday.
Smith says she’s worked at least 30 presidential declarations of disaster, and the common theme is people in need of rescue and reassurance that everything’s going to be ok. She says that’s where she comes in, and it’s a blessing to do it. "Disaster Dee" says she's scheduled for two weeks off when she returns from Puerto Rico. Then, she'll re-pack her bags, in case duty calls her back to the airport.