Locals helping Wewahitcka residents in aftermath

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Call it divine intervention.

Brewton resident Billie Dase said she and her family initially volunteered to be a part of the hospitality program through Cajun Navy Foundation to allow volunteers helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael to stay at her home and wash clothes, etc., but she said something told her they needed to do more.

“My heart told me that we needed to go and volunteer,” she said. “I looked at all of the areas hit hard, and decided we should go to Wewahitchka, Fla. I called the dispatcher at Cajun Navy Foundation and told her we wanted to be switched from hospitality to volunteer. All I noticed were all these small towns were hit hard, too, and someone needed to go help them, as well.”

On Friday after Hurricane Michael made landfall, Dase, her husband and 21-year-old son made the nearly three-hour trek to Gulf County.

“As we drove there, we began to see the destruction,” she said. “There were 200 downed powerlines and electrical poles. We had to bob and weave around downed trees. There was not even a clear path to Wewahitchka.”

When the trio arrived, they spoke to residents and assessed their needs.

“When we left Wewahitchka, I was in tears,” she said. “They had no running water, no electricity, mothers had no formula or baby food for their babies, and they were hungry.”

Dase said when they left, she phoned the dispatcher at Cajun Navy and told her that they were going back the next day.

“Those people needed us, I told her,” she said.

She quickly assembled a team – the Dase family – Mike, Billie, Chris, John, Meri and Charlie, all from Brewton; Jessica Johns of Brewton; Noah Harris and William Wilson from North Carolina; Robbie Comelek from Crestview and DJ Deaton from Colorado.

“All I could think was that Wewahitchka could be Brewton, Ala.,” she said.

Dase said her family went to the store when they arrived back in Brewton and purchased diapers, formula, water and non-perishable goods for those affected by Michael.

“We passed them out, and we received hugs, handshakes and a lot of gratitude,” she said. “A lot didn’t think we would come back.”

She said the sheriff told her he had seen FEMA, the president and semi-after-semi, pass through his county on the way to help others in larger geographic areas affected by the massive storm, but none had stopped.

The team has spent 11 days on the ground in Wewahitchka, she said, and they have so many stories and have met so many people affected by the historic storm.

“One guy we met had only four hours left on his oxygen machine and he relied on it to breathe,” she said. “We went and found a generator to charge it with. When we got back, he had 30 minutes left on his oxygen.”

The days have been long for the team. They have left Brewton between 5 and 6 a.m., and have made the 164-mile trip daily, passing out supplies, blankets, removing trees, tarping roofs, whatever they can do.

“We are going to keep going back,” she said.

The Brewton Fire Department joined the team recently and took two-trailer loads of supplies donated by local residents to the town.

The Cajun Navy Foundation also dropped 1,000 pounds of food and supplies such as tarps last Wednesday.

“I knew God had answered our prayers,” she said.

They have also expanded their efforts to Dalkeith and Stone Mill Creek, which puts them up helping an area with 10,000 people.

They take supplies daily in four pickup trucks.

The team works all day until about 8 p.m., going house to house helping with what they can.

Dase said with the cold front coming and residents still not having electricity, socks, blankets, mittens and hand warming packets are needed.

“There is a major need for them to be able to keep warm,” she said.

Every day they also take 10 gas cans full of gasoline. There isn’t a way to get fuel yet in the town, and they are using the gas to fill generators for people who need oxygen.

The money for the gas comes out of the volunteers’ pockets since the foundation is a non-profit.

She said another need would be gas cards to help with filling the cans needed to run the generators.

“We also put gas in a lady’s vehicle to get her diabetes medicine from a medical tent set up,” Dase said. “She needed insulin.”

Power isn’t expected to be fully restored to the area until Nov. 17, according to PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s transmission system restoration map. The county is serviced by Gulf Coast  Electric Cooperative, a PowerSouth member-owner. There are some 1,000 personnel on the ground working to restore the power there, including employees from Southern Pine Electric Cooperative, who were dispatched Friday. They are Ricky Quates, Grayson Peters, AJ

Faircloth, Chase Jordan, Kirk Carter, Danny Taylor,  Tim Hodge, John Paul, David Saucer and Jordan Brown.

Even days into their cleanup efforts, the team is still finding people.

Dase said they go into the woods looking for people.

“We found a whole road of residents who were blocked in by a lot of downed trees,” she said.

Manpower is also needed if any group would like to help, she said.

“The more the merrier,” she said. “But when we go out there we go house to house and try not to waste any time.”

Dase said she could not be more thankful for her team.

Other supplies needed include:

• water;

• non-perishables;

• adult diapers;

• Ensure drinks;

• diapers;

• formula;

• baby food;

• baby wipes;

• deodorant

Locals who wish to make donations to this cause, may drop them off at The Brewton Standard office at 407 St. Nicholas Avenue. Dase said they also have a rally point in Florida for those who wish to make a larger donation.

“All I keep thinking is we could have been them,” she said. “To see the looks on their faces. That can’t be bought. You can’t buy smiles. You keep going back. Days ago, they thought they were forgotten. The people there remind me a lot of the people of Brewton. Everyone is so nice and sweet. They never take more than they need. We’re meant to be here for a reason.”