On Tuesday, the Israel Rescue Coalition and United Hatzalah first response teams divided up into two groups with one headed to Key West, and the other headed to Naples.
In Naples, the team walked into pandemonium. Houses were completely destroyed and people were without food, water, and electricity. The team was warned by local officials that there were groups of looters who had no hesitation to shoot at first responders. Luckily, the group did not encounter any of these groups. They worked with community centers that were taking in displaced people who had stayed in the city during the hurricane but were forced to evacuate their homes due to a lack of power, water, and food. They joined clean up efforts and helped feed some 500 people at a local Chabad house after clearing the damage that the house had sustained during the hurricane. In one location, Psychotrauma responders helped calm a man who had been stuck in an elevator for some time while emergency crews worked to extricate him.
In the Florida Keys, the situation was far more dire. Key West and many of the surrounding Keys had been without water or electricity since Shabbos, and in spite of an evacuation order for the area, many people had decided to find shelter in the safety of their own homes. The highway leading to the Keys had flooded and there was no way in or out for many people who were trapped there.
“One such person, a military veteran named John, lives by himself in the city of Marathon in the central Keys,” said Tamar Citron, a veteran Search and Rescue volunteer from Israel who is part of the IRC and United Hatzalah team. “John suffers from a respiratory condition that requires him to receive oxygen on a regular basis. Once the hurricane hit, he like all the residents who were still on the Islands were unable to leave. He took shelter from the storm in his bathroom and has spent the last four days without water, electricity or telephone reception. When we got to him he barely had any drinking water or food left.”
“You are the first people to come down here and offer aid,” John told the group of rescuers.
“We provided him with water, food and a lot of positivity. We notified local authority and EMS teams that he was here and made sure that they followed up to properly care for him. Unfortunately, John is not alone and there are many people stuck on the Keys right now without access to food, water, electricity or a method of communication. Yesterday we were able to help dozens of people in a similar situation. On Wednesday, our entire team is heading down to the Keys to help rescue more of these people.”
Another man by the name of John Conrad was visiting the Keys when the hurricane struck. “I’m from Tennessee, and I’ve been trying to make my way back to Fort Lauderdale since Saturday. I got caught in the hurricane and we had no food or water and no transportation. I decided I was going to make my way back to the mainland somehow, but then you guys came and picked me up. You brought me about a hundred miles today, and that is something I will never forget.”
The team brought aid, medical assistance and much-needed water and food to residents of the Keys yesterday. They conducted house to house searches for people who stayed be and were stranded by Hurricane Irma.
EMT first responder Gavy Friedson who is also a member of the IRC and United Hatzalah team spoke about the plan for the team’s continued efforts. “We are going back to the Keys again this morning and will be there all day. The entire area is without water, power, food, plumbing or cell service and most of the homes are severely damaged. It has been reported that more than a quarter of all the homes in the Keys have been destroyed and are unlivable. We are on the way to assist with search & rescue ops such as door-to-door searches for missing people or families and unfortunately, there is a long list of missing people. Additionally, we will be bringing food and water to distribute to those who choose to stay. Currently, the only way to communicate is via satellite phone and thankfully our team has some but the residents don’t. We will help as many people as we can and continue to do so for the length of our mission here.”
Photo credit: United Hatzalah/IRC