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Volunteers with boats and supplies step in to help on Pine Island after Ian

Tropical Weather Education
Gerald Herbert/AP
/
AP
Boats operated by resident good Samaritans help evacuate residents who stayed behind on Pine Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Matlacha Fla., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. The only bridge to the island is heavily damaged so it can only be reached by boat or air. The devastation from Hurricane Ian has left schools shuttered indefinitely in parts of Florida, leaving storm-weary families anxious for word on when and how children can get back to classrooms. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

When Hurricane Ian hammered the coast of Southwest Florida many residents of the barrier islands chose not to evacuate. When the storm passed those that survived found themselves without easy access to the mainland.

In addition to law enforcement dispatched to help them, groups of citizens with boats and supplies also rushed to help.

Doug Root runs D&D. A 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? Water? Beer,” he calls out to people he passes.

A week after the storm Doug and Jeff were joined by other volunteers. The group headed west with a boat full of bottled water, gasoline cans, propane and little things

“We got toothpaste, shampoo,” Root said.

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”

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.

“Any creature comforts we can get you?” “peace of mind”

Peace of mind will likely come and go for the residents of Pine Island. Doug knew that when he packed supplies.

The waters were heavily polluted with debris from the storm. As they turned the corner to Bokeelia, on the northern point of Pine Island, Jeff shouted his usual pitch.

“Need anything?”

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

“We got a taker!…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…People are hurting for propane…”

Doug says recovery has moved along since his first trip out on the boat.

“It looks better! "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 City did leave. And while his business got almost eight feet of water inside, his house came out ok. 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,”

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.

WLRN