Responding To Tropical Storm Debby
Below is an e-mail from Tad Agoglia, founder of First Response Team of America. The Caterpillar Foundation was one of the first investors in First Response Team of America, and the organization continues to use Caterpillar equipment for its disaster-relief and life-saving efforts around the world.
I am writing from Live Oak, Florida, where Tropical Storm Debby left mass devastation across several parts of the state. Last week we began noticing weather patterns indicating there might be a possible storm forming in the Atlantic. Although there were conflicting models, on Sunday, June 24th, we made the decision to deploy our team to provide potential rescue and relief assistance in the South. On our way, we received confirmation that a tropical storm was no longer just a potential threat—it was a fast-forming reality, and it was going to hit Florida.
Once we learned more about this tropical storm, we pre-positioned ourselves in Tallahassee until we could confirm what city was going to get hit. While there, we received a call from Stu Ostro, a severe weather expert at the Weather Channel, who informed us that Debby was headed to St. Marks, Florida. Upon arrival, we received a warm welcome from the St. Marks Volunteer Fire Department. They generously allowed us to position our team at the station. While there, we received several 911 calls reporting trees were falling down everywhere. By this time, it was the middle of the night and people were asked to evacuate the city. Evacuation proved difficult with many fallen trees blocking roads, so we began clearing the streets in an effort to not only help people get out safely, but to provide a pathway for ambulances and emergency vehicles.
After helping the St. Marks' community, we touched base with the Weather Channel and learned Tropical Storm Debby was heading west, and that the next city predicted to be hit in Florida was Live Oak. This city was two hours away, so we immediately packed up gear and headed in that direction. As we neared Live Oak, at first we couldn't get through because the roads had already flooded and were filled with debris. Thankfully, we met a local man who knew the back roads, and he generously helped us reach the city. Because of the challenging conditions of the roads, the American Red Cross also had trouble reaching Live Oak. Luckily, we were able to help get them in using our RAM trucks.
Once in Live Oak, Emergency Management allowed us access to areas of the city that needed rescue response and recovery teams. In town, we found that most of the roads were under more extreme weather-inhibited conditions than the ones on the way in. The streets were flooded with shallow water and filled with debris, which made it impossible for rescue crews and their boats with propellers to navigate through. Using our hovercraft, we were able to get to these areas of town that other rescue crews could not. As a result, we were able to reach a stranded one-year-old baby boy and his mother. The child had a very high fever, but using the hovercraft, we were able bring him (and his mom) to safety and get him the immediate medical attention he needed. There was an ambulance waiting nearby that was able to take them both to the hospital.
Out of all the devastation I've seen from Tropical Storm Debby, the rescue of this child and his mother touched my heart deeply. So I want to thank YOU. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have the funds or proper equipment to have brought these two and others to safety. Your generosity as a First Response Team supporter truly makes a difference in these people's lives. Also, thanks to you, we were able to pump water and provide emergency lighting in Live Oak, and ultimately provide relief. But the reality is our relief efforts are not complete. Live Oak continues to need our help, and when the next disaster hits, those people will be affected and in-need of relief, as well. Please consider making a donation. With your continued support, we can lend a hand and help our Southeastern friends get back on their feet. I can say from the amazing people I have met on this rescue thus far that they are thankful to you, too.
To see a glimpse of the First Response Team’s relief efforts in Live Oak, watch this video.
P.S. If you'd like to see how the First Response Team takes action in the critical hours following a disaster, you can watch our new short-form TV show. It began airing on the Weather Channel on March 6, 2012, and you can view the webisodes online.