Joe Clendenin has seen this drill before.

The retired Santa Rosa physician, who is volunteering with the American Red Cross in New Jersey, is a veteran of natural disasters.

As always, his immediate concern is for people's health and safety. Longer-term, he worries for their mental well-being.

"They think they're going to get out of here and it's going to be OK. It won't. People lose everything; it takes the wind out of their sails," he said.

By "here," Clendenin was referring to two schools in Pleasantville, N.J., where about 550 people have sought shelter from superstorm Sandy's wrath.

Clendenin arrived on the scene Saturday, before the deluge. He said that by Monday so many people had flooded the shelters that some were forced to sleep upright in chairs in the cafeterias.

The crowding has eased somewhat since, he said.

"We're just trying to make them comfortable. The longer they're here, the antsier they get," he said.

Clendenin is one of six Red Cross volunteers from five North Bay counties who were dispatched to the East Coast to assist with relief efforts.

The Red Cross has deployed more than 2,300 disaster workers to the region from all over the country and shipped in more than 230,000 ready-to-eat meals.

PG&E also is sending 150 employees to New York, including nine from Sonoma County, to help restore power in the aftermath of the hurricane.

For Clendenin, who left his family practice of 30 years in 2002, Sandy's wrath is a familiar sight.

In 2008, he traveled to southern Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Ike and stayed nearly a month. In 2007, he was in Santa Barbara to assist with the Zaca wildfire for more than two weeks. He also helped out last year during Hurricane Irene.

Clendenin said his wife, Dianne, has supported him through his absences. He said he expects to be gone about two weeks this time around.

Once officials say it's OK for people to return to their homes, Clendenin will go with them, paying particular attention to their emotional health.

The challenge in the meantime is trying to keep people from going stir-crazy at the shelters. He said another volunteer on Wednesday had children dress in costume for an impromptu Halloween celebration in one of the school cafeterias.

"That's a real challenge, keeping kids busy in shelters 'cause it's so boring," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or

On Twitter @deadlinederek.