[Editor's Note: In April 2022, we published “So what did you do for Christmas?” I prefaced the article with an introduction, and I am reiterating that here. "Answer: Most of us visited with family and friends, even behind a mask. For one Islander though, Christmas 2021 was spent in a very different way. I am one of the lucky ones to receive Michael Laprade’s monthly newsletter, the Epistle. He and his wife Janice, when not living on their beautiful little Honey Bee Island in the International Rift, are skipping back and forth between California and France. Each month, I look forward to seeing what trouble these two are getting into – or coming from . . ."
Skip ahead to September 2023, and the news of another Florida Hurricane named Idalia, and I wondered, just wondered … sure enough … Here is Michael’s 2023 story.]
"Not Forgotten", Taylor County Florida
Here we go again. Another hurricane, another disaster, and many more lives ruined. I got the call to grab my ‘GO’ bag (the other two are in France and in California) and head to the airport to join a strike team with Team Rubicon to 'save the world, one hurricane at a time.'
If you’re not familiar with Team Rubicon, we are a group of volunteers, mostly (but not all) ex-military, aged 20 to 75, men and women, who are trained to be effective disaster responders. We are not simply well intentioned folks who are given a shovel. As such, we have all the necessary equipment, and are ready to deploy anywhere on (and off) the continent on a moment’s notice, to help communities in the first days of a disaster. We are supported by private and corporate donations.
Our tools are provided by national tool manufacturers, vehicles by the “Big 3,” as well as rental agencies, and transportation is often donated by the airlines. None of the people helped are ever charged for anything.
Responding to a community that has suffered a disaster, it is understood that in most cases, the living conditions will range between being pretty rough (Red Cross cots) to simply hideous. We are not staying at the Four Seasons. Often, it is at a school gym, a warehouse, a church, or the fire station. On Abaco Island in the Bahamas, after a hurricane a few years ago, our meals consisted of MREs (military prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat). They were soon dubbed by us as Meals Rejected by Ethiopians. We had them for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner we could have any MRE we wanted!
This past September when we landed, I was surprised to see many people heading towards us. I stopped one to ask what was going on and she said they were running away from a disaster.
We were running towards it.
Disasters pretty much all look alike after a while.
The hurricane was named because this is the part of Florida that does not attract many tourists and tends to be 'forgotten.' Of course the damage done by Hurricane Idalia, with maximum sustained winds of 125 MPH (205 Km/h), was staggering. There were downed communication towers, structural damage, major flooding along the coast from substantial storm surge, and downed trees from high winds. The hurricane had done its thing and we were there to deal with the aftermath. Same old story for us, mind numbing shock for its victims. We were at ground zero, mere miles from Perry, Florida, on the 3rd wave of this operation.
You get the idea!
Each 'wave' works for a week, then is sent home and is replaced by a fresh group. Disasters anywhere become old news to the rest of the world after a few days, since there are more interesting things to report on. But not for these folks. Out of a total of eight deployments, this was my 4th to Florida, this time in the panhandle. Again. That is, the northwest corner of the state, on the gulf side. I really like Florida, but I’m beginning to think it’s a little disaster prone.
For the first time, I was not in the flood zone but in an area where tens of thousands of large, tall, old growth trees had been blown over because their root balls were shallow and in sandy soil. I could tell you the whole truth, that there were hundreds of thousands of these trees, but I would understand if you wouldn’t believe me. Even weeks after the hurricane had hit, we were cutting trees that had fallen over people's wells and pumps, making it impossible for them to be repaired, still leaving these people without water.
One man had a tree fall over his cattle pen and was unable to load his stock to take them to market. He was quoted $16,000 by a local firm to remove the enormous tree and was getting ready to take the money out of his retirement savings. We sent three saw teams and a skip loader and the deed was done in a day. In all, we had $80 million of logistical equipment on site to service 70 Team Rubicon members rotating one wave at a time. This, including FEMA shower trailers, toilet trailers, massive generators, housing trailers and all manner of heavy equipment.
Meanwhile, back at the island, Janice was holding down the fort. With friends checking in on her, picking her up to take her to social events, and generally just living it up, she probably hardly noticed that I was gone!
By Michael Laprade
It was back in 2009, that TI Life readers were introduced to Michael Laprade, who lives on Honey Bee Island, at the east end of the International Rift between Wellesley Island and Hill Islands. Kim Lunman Grout, introduced us in her article, “Honey Bee’s Magic”. Michael is a former prison administrator, and also is a Professional Magician. In October 2013, Michael and Janice wrote Honey Bee Island’s Little Free Library for TI Life, as well as I Was the Pilot in September 2016, Boarding of the SS Honey Bee in January 2018; Chief Tecumseh, September 2021. Then in April 2022, he wrote Team Rubicon: So . . . what did you do for Christmas? and Guilty as Charged! in August 2022. Stay tuned as this gentleman never stops for a rest.
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