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Volunteer captains hit the water to supply residents cut off by Ian

 Doug Root has been running volunteer missions to Pine Island on his boat.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Doug Root has been running volunteer missions to Pine Island on his boat.

Most residents of Pine Island were left without water or power after being battered by Hurricane Ian. Part of the bridge connecting them to the mainland was also destroyed. In the aftermath of the storm, WLRN's Gerard Albert III spent a day with the volunteer captains running vital supply to residents trying to get their lives back together.

Pine Island is a barrier island between Cayo Costa and Cape Coral in Southwest Florida — that made it one of the first places directly struck by Hurricane Ian as it came inland.

Many residents chose not to evacuate. some are facing blown-off roofs and flooded homes, with massive remodeling projects in the months ahead. Others will have to totally start over after catastrophic damage to their homes.

Most were left without access to supplies on the mainland. In response, groups of citizens with boats have rushed to help, supplementing the work of law enforcement and the emergency services.

Last week, WLRN hopped aboard a vessel with a team of volunteers who have been delivering supplies to residents on the island.

Damage of home in Pine Island after Hurricane Ian
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Damage of home in Pine Island after Hurricane Ian

Doug Root runs D&D bait shop on the bridge between Matlacha and Pine Island. He and his friend Jeff spent the days after the storm taking his boat out to deliver supplies to residents of Pine Island.

“You guys need anything?" Jeff calls from the boat to residents cleaning out their homes. "Water? Beer?”

A week after the storm Doug and Jeff were joined by other volunteers. Doug was losing his voice after days of calling out and checking on people from his boat so Jeff did most of the yelling.

“You better get some honey, honey," Jeff joked.

 Jeff, a volunteer who brought supplies to Pine Island after Hurricane Ian, points out damage to a roof on the island.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Jeff, a volunteer who brought supplies to Pine Island after Hurricane Ian, points out damage to a roof on the island.

The group headed west with a boat full of bottled water, gasoline cans, propane and little things like shampoo and toothpaste. Doug dropped off supplies to his friend Chris who rode out the storm in his home near Pineland Marina.

We were in the house soon as it started to calm down from the eye. And then the wind started to shift, that's when the surge came in. And we saw it coming,Chris told Doug.

The group dropped off gas and a chainsaw with Chris.

Bailey Kauffman is an FGCU student who came to help out. He kept a list of supplies that residents asked for. Chris asked for dog food, something the group had already run out of that day. Bailey wrote it down in his notes.

“Anything else?" Bailey asked. “Peace of mind,” Charlie said lightheartedly.

Peace of mind will likely come and go for the residents of Pine Island in the coming months. Doug knew that when he packed supplies, including cases of beer.

The waters were heavily polluted with debris from the storm. While he navigated, Doug flagged large tree limbs and boat parts that could damage his boat.

Residents in Pine Island face having to rebuild after their homes were battered by Hurricane Ian
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Residents in Pine Island face having to rebuild after their homes were battered by Hurricane Ian

As they turned the corner to Bokeelia, on the northern point of Pine Island, Jeff shouted his usual pitch, offering water and beer.

Rosa Knight was sitting in her backyard. She called back for a beer.

“We got a taker!" Doug said as he turned the boat towards her dock. "How’d u make out?”

Rosa made out fine, she said. The northern part of the island doesn't get a high storm surge.

"It never surges here," she told the crew as they unloaded gas cans and propane. "Thank goodness, these winding narrow creeks through the mangroves, it just really protects this little area."

Her place made out so well that other residents came by for supplies.

“This is like a distribution point,” she said.

The northern tip of Pine Island was spared from the worst of the storm damage. Doug says recovery has moved along since his first trip out on the boat.

 Jack Brackin (left) and Bailey Kauffman (right) bring gasoline cans and other supplies to Rosa Knight's house on Pine Island.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Jack Brackin (left) and Bailey Kauffman (right) bring gasoline cans and other supplies to Rosa Knight's house on Pine Island.

“It looks better!" he shouted on the boat. "That first day I was like 'what the...' — there was no hope.”

He knows many of the residents by name. His grandfather lives on the island and stayed for the storm.

“He won't leave the island, he's got his house,” Doug said. "But in a way it was a good thing that they are out there. Because people are calling us like, 'check this person go check that person.'"

Doug, who lives in the southern part of the island in Saint James did evacuate. And while his business got almost eight feet of water inside, his house came out okay.

He’s been running volunteer missions like this for a few days and says he misses spending time with his wife and son. Still, he plans to continue making trips.

“We got our lives, we got our kids, we got our wives. We're better off than half of the people,” he said.

The bridge that connects Pine Island to the mainland was damaged during the storm. Eight days later, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that it had been reopened.

Ever since, construction crews and cargo trucks filled with food and other supplies have come over to help residents, but captains like Doug have continued to do runs to supplement the service.
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Gerard Albert III