Members of the local Rotary Club, joined by a crew from St. Augustine, pitched in to help in the clean-up effort sin Franklin County, before heading west to aid in the harder hit areas of Gulf and Bay counties.
Rich Turnbull, owner of Turnbull Environmental Inc., who will be the District Governor of Rotary District 6970 northeast Florida for Rotary year 2020-21, brought three pieces of heavy equipment from St Augustine to address the problem of trees on roofs and driveways for senior citizens, the medically disabled and public servants, such as medical personnel and teachers, at no charge.
“We didn’t get to as many as we wanted to,” said local Rotary president Cliff Butler. “They ran into one or two too big for them to handle.”
Housing the crew at the family’s vacation house on St George Island, Butler also provided housing for a Mexico Beach woman who lost her entire pottery store in the storm. The building is gone but the big pottery pots survived and an effort to salvage the pottery is underway.
The Rotarians partnered with the emergency operations center and the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast to remove what was too big for them to handle and any needs while moving from one site to another.
Butler said the equipment proved invaluable because of a scarcity of heavy equipment easily available. He said he’s been traveling from Apalachicola from to Mexico Beach trying to determine how the Rotarian can help with ongoing disaster relief recovery, which may go on for up to a year or more.
“In Mexico Beach really there’s not that many trees to remove. They’re removing piles of rubble that used to be a house,” said Butler, noting that in Bay and Gulf counties the Rotarians have been working with Samaritan’s Purse, the outreach of the Rev. Franklin Graham.
“My primary objective has been trying to build partnerships with other organizations and agencies so we are working together and not duplicating efforts,” Butler said. “Our club and district are receiving offers of help from all over the Southeast and sometimes from further away.
“One teacher is living in a tent, I have seen a tent,” said Butler, of the situation west of here. “We think it’s almost back to normal but there still a lot of people who need some help.”
During the week of Oct. 22, the Rotarians were busy throughout Apalachicola, including at the trailer park west of town.
Lots of help came from debris removal crews from the county and city, where they came around to the areas removing debris and putting it roadside.
Huge 30 foot trees were removed from rooftops, and yards cleared of storm debris, by the Rotarians, while the Conservation Corps helped tarp homes. One of the neighbors we helped was a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran.
“We stored our equipment on Highway 98 at the home of two kind, wonderful ladies with a big property and a three-story building,” wrote Marie Turnbull, wife of the future district governor. “Being able to store our equipment in a safe place is invaluable so in return we helped clean up their yard. The property was in the storm surge zone so the rack line with all its debris were in the yard. We were rewarded with homemade pies and pound cake.”
The crews also use their loader to move two large tractor trailers that had turned over and washed up onto the edge of Highway 98, creating a safety hazard.
“We were also asked to move a walk-in freezer to the road, at a nearby retail and commercial fish facility that had been completely destroyed by storm surge,” said Turnbull. “Weeks without power and a freezer full of fish was now a total loss – and no one wanted the door to open, so we made sure it was padlocked.”
As the crews moved west, they faced nearly 600 tree-related tickets needing to be addressed in Port St. Joe, which they quickly reduced. “Much needs to be done still, but contract debris removal teams are being heavily deployed, and we would start impacting some work that should rightfully be done by folks that are unemployed due to the storm,” wrote Turnbull.
Butler encouraged anyone in need of debris removal to contact the emergency operations center for help.