By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer
16 people from the local area boarded a small plane to go and join Samaritan’s Purse volunteer teams on the ground, who were providing relief to those hard hit by Hurricane Irma just outside of Key West.
On the Nov. 1 pre-dawn flight from Banyan Air in Ft. Lauderdale was BJ Thomas, who had flown down once in September, once in October, and now once in November.
“I’d like to see exactly what type of work they’re still doing. We were taking out cabinetry, drywall and insulation. Most of these houses are on stilts. I think you have to have a certain mentality to live in the Keys. The people who live here really want to be here!”
Thomas explained why she and others were still volunteering to assist our neighbors in the Keys. “When you’re in the storm’s path, and almost get hit, it makes you ready to jump in and help people.”
This was Lisette Barton’s first time on the one-day mission trip. The St. Petersburg, FL resident was already planning to join a weeklong mission trip to Puerto Rico from Nov. 18 to 25 (through Calvary Chapel, Ft. Lauderdale; also the gathering place for those going on the Samaritan’s Purse flights to the Keys.) Barton said she hoped to go back on her own to Puerto Rico and bring a team with her on Dec. 29 to Jan. 8.
Greeting incoming teams at a community partner church in Key West, aptly called Glad Tidings church, was Assistant Manager of U.S.Disaster Relief for Samaritan’s Purse, Todd Taylor.
Missionaries received an orange Samaritan’s Purse T-shirt, an 8-minute training video, and buffet breakfast of pumpkin bread, orange slices, hard boiled eggs and coffee before being divided up into teams and sent out into the field.
Taylor said Samaritan’s Purse was sending teams to the Keys through Nov. 15.
“At one time, we had nine [Hurricane relief] sites running at one time— four in Florida [after Sept. 10 Hurricane Irma] and five in Texas [after Aug. 25 Hurricane Harvey],” said Taylor, who said it is his job to oversee all the different sites. (Both Harvey and Irma hit as Cat.
MIDDLE TORCH KEY
35-year residents, in a home tucked away on the back roads of Middle Torch Key, Mike and Jerry Tinell had two Samaritan’s Purse teams working at their home, clearing a large lot full of debris that led to the water and cleaning out a shed. Their dog Palo, a Blackmouth Cur, the same breed as Old Yeller, approached the van carrying missionaries with a strong bark. By the end of the clean-up, Palo was walking around the prayer circle, going from person to person wagging his tail, as if to say, “Thank you for cleaning up my house.”
Jerry and Mike evacuated for the Hurricane to Ft. Pierce. “It’s unbelievable the mass destruction. It’s hard to wrap your brain around,” she said upon coming back. While most Keys residents were not allowed to return right away, Jerry said she was able to get back in after the storm. “I’m a nurse. I got in on my nursing [credentials] three days after the storm,” said the nurse with ICU experience. She and her husband also had a business called Dolphin Hydraulics, which involved working on commercial fishing boats.
Mike said when they came back the Wednesday after the [Sunday] storm, the road was still washed out in places. “We were running on generator for over 10 days here. There was no gasoline for 50 miles, from Marathon to almost Key West. You had to drive to Key West for gas. There was a lot of anxiety involved. We were driving around with extra gas. You didn’t know if you’d get stuck somewhere. I didn’t realize you need a funnel to get into one of the gas tanks!”
Asked if he had been in touch with his neighbors, Mike said, “Not only that. We are more like a family. You rely on each other.”
While the Tinell’s still had debris covering their property, and the road to their house was still piled high with appliances and tree limbs [as it was from Key Largo to Key West, along the Overseas Highway], Jerry said their tenants at three rentals they own in Big Pine Key made out worse. “There was seaweed on the ceiling, and they have two little children. There is so little affordable housing here. We try to keep ours reasonable, but a lot of people [who live here]
are still in hotels.”
Jerry said she was thankful for all the help they had.
“People in the Keys are slowly but surely putting their lives back together, piece by piece,” she said.
Asked what Keys residents would most like for Christmas, Jerry replied, “To get their lives back in order, to get back into their houses, with roofs over their heads, to have power and cell phones.” (As of Nov. 1, she still did not have a home phone or Internet access.)
In Cudjoe Key, a lot of houses lost their soffits, which allowed the wind and rain to come in and flood the houses, as well as causing mildew.
At a second house the team visited in the afternoon, all debris removal so far had only been done by the guy and his son-in-law. No one had been out to help.
Drywall needed to be removed upstairs, as well as a steel tub, which had to be broken into pieces and carted down the stairs. Two team members sawed trees in the yard, while others rolled or carried the heavy logs and debris to the curb.
Homeowner/realtor Richard Medlin described the aftermath of the Hurricane, “Like all of a sudden living in a trash dump. You have to know, if you’re going to live down here, you’re going to get slammed. You get numb to it sometimes. We were shut off from water and ice.”
Asked what his holiday wish would be, he said, “For us, it’s to put in a bathroom and kitchen. We are happy we have a home. Thankful. It’s nice to see such care in the community. This many people coming out…You can’t beat our water view, and sky view!”