SARASOTA, FLORIDA — After dodging Hurricane Dorian for the most part, pilots from across Florida will soon deliver much-needed essential supplies to the ravaged Bahamas archipelago that has more than 700 islets and islands.
Sol Relief Aviation, a nonprofit disaster relief group in St. Petersburg, has 71 pilots on standby who will be donating time and fuel to deliver necessities, but they will be grounded until a runway becomes available. Most are flooded, damaged or covered with debris.
“We have some bigger planes we are loading up to land in Nassau, Bahamas,” Sol’s emergency response coordinator and spokesman Mark Auchtung said, referring to Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. “They are going over (to Marsh Harbour) by helicopter or boat to the smaller islands. Once the runways are open — one runway is all we need — we will take supplies over.”
A plane that left Tuesday morning carried water filtration kits, water, 500 hygiene kits and food. Relief workers will bring personal supplies, such as clothes, later.
Sol Relief was founded in 2017 following devastating strikes by Hurricane Irma and Maria in the Caribbean and Florida. Founder Jen Lockwood, a St. Croix islander, first organized a group of plots on supply runs to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We don’t have an initial needs assessment back,” said Auchtung, noting that Hurricane Dorian is still hovering north of Grand Bahama Island. “The community is asking, ‘What can I donate?’ In general, you know what that is — personal hygiene, generators, fuel and food.”
Annemarie Rizzo, an attorney at Sarasota-based The Law Place, is organizing a donation drive with local attorneys and paralegals. They are partnering with the Siesta Key nightclub, Beach Club and Universal Flight Services, which is donating six to eight airplanes, to collect supplies.
“When I saw and listened to some of the videos as they came out yesterday (Monday), I was tearing up,” said Rizzo, who vacations in the Bahamas. “It’s so heartbreaking when you see places you’ve been to and they are under water. Water is coming up to second-floor levels.
“I am so grateful Florida is not getting it. These people who did suffer need our help.”
In addition to efforts across Florida, the American Red Cross is accepting donations online nationwide at redcross.org, by calling (800) RED-CROSS, or texting the word DORIAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation. The donations are used to provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support, recovery planning and other assistance, according to the Red Cross.
They also urge eligible individuals unaffected by the storm to give blood. Appointments can be scheduled at redcrossblood.org, or by calling (800) 733-2767.
Hurricane relief supply list
• Protein or granola bars
• Prepackaged pouches/packets of chicken or tuna (no cans)
• Prepackaged cheese or peanut butter crackers
• Peanut butter (no glass containers)
• Trail mix
• Antibacterial hand and face wipes
• Toilet paper
• Toothpaste and brushes
• Sanitary napkins
• Chain saws
• Hand tree saws
• Batteries (AAA, AA, C, D only)
• Solar lights
• Work gloves
• Triple antibiotic ointment