Omar Rodríguez Ortiz, Marco Eagle
Published November 13th, 2020
Members of an emergency response nonprofit based on Marco Island did not think twice before helping others when Tropical Storm Eta was heading toward the Tampa area.
Matthew Melican, Marco Patriot's founder, loaded his pickup truck with tools, water bottles and snacks, and drove about 200 miles from Marco.
Melican said he arrived at a barrier island near St. Petersburg late Nov. 11, hours after strong wind gusts from the storm were felt on Marco, and began doing wellness checks on Redington Beach with retired U.S. Marine Allan Garry.
"We showed people how to open their garage doors using the emergency release so they could start getting water out of the house," he said.
Unlike Redington, on nearby Madeira Beach there was no power, and the streets were dark, Garry said. He flew from North Carolina to join Melican in the operation.
As they drove through streets flooded 2 feet deep, shining their flashlights toward the houses, they came across a woman in need of assistance.
"As soon as she saw us, she started screaming and hollering so we stopped," Garry said. "She was crying and scared half to death."
The woman told Garry nobody told her to evacuate prior to the storm and that she was alone. Her house was flooded and she did not know what to do.
"I walked towards her, I grabbed and hugged her," Garry said. "I said, 'Everything is going to be OK, everything is fine, take a deep breath.'"
Garry provided her with information of organizations and government agencies like Red Cross, Salvation Army and Federal Emergency Management Agency that assist people affected by natural disasters.
In Oldsmar, a town east of Tampa, the duo helped a young man whose car was stuck in high water.
"He was nervous and didn't know what to do," Melican said. "So we got his vehicle started and pushed it out of the water."
Melican said it is important after natural disasters to listen to people's concerns and to let them know they are not alone.
"Some were very distraught, crying and happy to get a hug," he said.