Omar Rodríguez Ortiz, Marco Eagle
August 25th, 2020
An emergency response non-profit based on Marco Island arrived Monday to Baton Rouge to save lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.
Laura is forecast to reach the northwestern Gulf coast at or near major hurricane intensity Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. A major hurricane has sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
Seven members of the Marco Patriots came hauling two WaveRunners, one airboat and rescue equipment, said Erin Mia Milchman, board president of the organization.
The work of the Marco Patriots
"They rescue people from drowning in floodwaters, deliver oxygen to people whose homes collapsed and they cut through trees to make way for ambulances," Milchman said.
The volunteers are boat captain Ron Hagerman, Patriots co-founder Matt Melican, Naples business owner Dana Coote, Owen Maynard, Cameron Donahue and retired Marines Allan Garry and Lore "Robin" Lee, Milchman said. Garry, Lee and Cameron deployed from North Carolina.
"When they know people will be in peril, they drop everything," she said. "(They) kiss their families farewell and head straight into the thick of it."
The Patriots ran rescue operations in 2018 in the Carolinas in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and in the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, Milchman said. Hagerman and Melican rescued people in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Southeast Texas.
Hagerman, team leader of the operation, has participated in several rescue operations as far back as 2005 after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana with winds near 125 mph. It was followed by a series of levee failures, extreme flooding and the death of approximately 1,833 people across the Gulf Coast.
Helping during the COVID-19 pandemic
It will be the first time, however, the Patriots perform a rescue operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Milchman said. The team brought boxes of masks and gloves to wear and share with the people they rescue.
"The whole COVID-19 situation makes everything a thousand times more complicated," Milchman said.
Depending on where they are needed the most, the Patriots will mobilize to the coastal parishes of Louisiana or along the coastline in Southeast Texas, Milchman said. She will run an operations center from Marco Island where she will dispatch volunteers to locations where they are needed.
The Patriots raised $600 as of Wednesday evening to help people affected by Hurricane Laura. In the past, they have raised money for feeding stations, food drives and to donate to local charities assisting survivors of natural disasters, Milchman said.
"I may not even know the names of the people we might help and they may not know mine but I'm here and they matter," Coote wrote on his company's Facebook page.
Milchman said the deployed Patriots are "true heroes."
"They put themselves intentionally in harms way for complete strangers," she said. "And they do it because it is the right thing to do."