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HomeAt Home & BeyondHernando Beach Community Bands Together in the Aftermath of Hurricane Idalia

Hernando Beach Community Bands Together in the Aftermath of Hurricane Idalia

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From the first mention of a potential storm in the Gulf of Mexico last week, Hernando County residents began preparing for the worst. With the early forecasts bringing a major hurricane named Idalia ashore near Hernando County, residents began preparing their homes for what the National Hurricane Center termed “catastrophic damage.”

After two days of furious preparations, many residents began breathing a little easier when the storm stayed further west than initially forecast. As the storm passed the county, it remained some 60 miles out into the gulf, resulting only in a grazing of some gusty winds and rain showers. But the true battle was yet to be fought in communities along the coast, as residents found themselves confronted with a 6-9 foot storm surge in conjunction with a rare “king tide.” Despite their best efforts, many residents up and down the Hernando County coastline could not stop up to three feet of water from flooding their homes.

Heeding warnings, many residents had evacuated for the storm. When they were allowed to return, hundreds found their belongings waterlogged and ruined. Now the real battle began…that of getting their wet possessions out and getting their homes dried out before mold had the chance to grow. It became a race against time as families without power, food, or water worked to save their homes from further damage.

Neighbors Rally To Help Each Other

Erin Daly is a Hernando Beach resident who was in New York visiting family when she learned of the storm. She knew only one thing: she had to get home, not for herself, but because her neighbors would need her. Daly had been through this before, and she knew it would be bad.

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Daly immediately turned to her friends Cheryl Harrison and Hernando County Fire Chief Kevin Rittenhouse to help her organize a community relief effort. The three are members of the disaster relief non-profit United Cajun Navy and have served together before during Hurricane Ian. Between them, they had developed many connections and resources during storms going as far back as Hurricane Hermine in 2016 and now began to leverage those connections to make things happen.

Within 24 hours of the storm striking Hernando County, the United Cajun Navy had procured the Coast Guard Auxiliary building in Hernando Beach to use as a command post. Daly issued a call for volunteers through social media and any way she could get the word out. At the same time, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross, the United Way, and the Church of Latter Day Saints began sending supplies to Hernando Beach. In short order, the growing group of volunteers managed to open a “Point of Distribution” known as a POD, where anyone in need could get water, food, materials, and supplies to begin the recovery effort.

With the POD in operation and a growing list of community volunteers, the team began compiling a list of community households needing assistance. Officially “adopting” the area from Aripeka to Pine Island, the group compiled a list of almost 100 families needing cleanout assistance. Just two days after the storm, with 50 volunteers ready to go, teams began deploying to residents needing help. Volunteers helped clean out flooded homes, delivered water, or helped with whatever task was required. After just two days, volunteers had managed to help with the needs of 50 of the nearly 100 families on the list.

Joe Grady, a volunteer on one of the damage mitigation teams, said, “It’s just heartbreaking when you see all of the people that need help. Some are older, some are younger, some have families, some are single, and some are disabled. It doesn’t matter who you are; if you got hit and need help, that’s what we are here to do. We’ve done a lot, and we still have a lot of work to do. We need as many volunteers as we can get.”

Daly said that volunteer teams going “hands-on” to help people are the big difference in governmental and non-governmental relief efforts. “The government will provide resources, but they won’t go into houses. We are trying to help people save their homes from mold because houses could be condemned once mold spreads. Some people are afraid to contact the government for help because they are afraid of how the government will assess the damage, and they don’t want to risk losing their homes”, she said.

Daly was quick to point out that governmental organizations still play an important role in relief efforts, though. “We just couldn’t do it without them,” she said. Daly was quick to point out that Hernando County Commissioners Brian Hawkins and Jerry Campbell quickly responded to the needs of the relief effort in Hernando Beach and offered assistance and coordination with several county resources.

United Cajun Navy operations are expected to continue in Hernando Beach at least through September 10th. Daly said of the effort, “Our ultimate goal is to build a volunteer team that can carry on with relief efforts long after the United Cajun Navy leaves. The Cajun Navy typically stays for about two weeks, but we know that relief efforts will need to continue for several weeks after that.”

Organizer Erin Daly said that more volunteers are still needed. Both adults and teens are welcome. Anyone wishing to help can stop by the command post at the US Coast Guard Auxiliary Building, 4340 Calienta Street, Hernando Beach, FL 34607. Areas in which you can volunteer can be found on the Cajun Navy’s website, www.unitedcajunnavy.com.

The Cajun Navy was founded in the days following Hurricane Katrina striking Louisiana in 2005. Hundreds of residents turned out with their boats to help each other and began expanding their assistance to other states following other natural disasters. According to their website: “The United Cajun Navy is a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit organization focused on helping make the world around us a better place. With the help of our tireless staff and volunteers, we organize search and rescue teams during natural disasters. United Cajun Navy offers support needs for children all across the United States. We provide relief efforts through fundraisers, community-building events, and in-depth training sessions for our volunteers. We have several locations throughout the United States for our supply chain to reach people in need all over. United Cajun Navy has provided Holiday meals, toys, medical supplies, generators, and much more at no cost to those who need them.”

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