PINE ISLAND — At 81-years-old, Douglas Guy is still strong enough to roll a wheelbarrow down his driveway. That is how he’s recovering on Pine Island after Hurricane Ian. One wheelbarrow at a time.
“Rob came over and I didn’t know who he was and he said, ‘Gee, what’s going on?’ and I said ‘Oh just lugging this brush out.’ And he said ‘Well, that’s not right. We’ve got to fix this.’ He got on the phone and called somebody up and said ‘We need a crew up here right away’. I was just blown away. Couldn’t believe it,” said Guy.
Rob Gaudet Founder and Director of Cajun Navy Ground Force made that call to his teammate Camilo who brought a team of volunteers to haul away trailer loads of debris from behind Guy’s home.
Veteran John Bohanick was living in unsafe conditions on Pine Island. The roof of his two-story house was gone and mold was multiplying by the day throughout his home. Still, he refused to leave. That is when a friend he met at a portable laundry mat on the island told Cajun Navy Ground Force about his situation.
“All of a sudden 4 or 5 cars pull up, a nurse came, just so many people! And they said ‘You really need some help don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah!’. They pitched in, helped me salvage a bunch of stuff. They ripped out all the moldy drywall out, the insulation, cut up trees, brought me supplies, food, just a great bunch of people. They really helped out, “ says Bohanick.
“It happens, the news covers it and then the news goes away but really the crisis for these folks is just beginning,” says Gaudet.
It has been nearly three months since the storm. Cajun Navy Ground Force is still removing debris and helping residents recover. Since the day after Hurricane Ian made landfall, they have served more than 18,000 families serving more than 80,000 hot meals. 1,600 volunteers have cleaned more than 50 homes, and made 350 wellness checks and medical visits to those in need donating $10 million in supplies to Southwest Florida.
“I’m just amazed at how the rest of the world thinks it’s over with after a couple of weeks and it’s not over after a couple of weeks. It goes on for a couple of years or longer. They’ve lost their whole lives,” said Camilo, a volunteer with Cajun Navy Ground Force since the week of the storm. From cleaning out homes and debris to working donation car lines, he has seen the needs with his own eyes.
“I’ve carried stuff out. Family pictures. Everything. It’s sad. But you try to get them through it and you try to work through it and you keep going,” said Camilo.
Since 2016, Cajun Navy Ground Force has deployed to dozens of natural disasters providing immediate needs and longer term solutions for those impacted. Funding and volunteers are the two cornerstones to keeping their mission alive for future disasters and Gaudet says the needs are increasing.
“I had a vision of a tent city, a volunteer army that comes into a community and starts helping people in whatever ways we can. Whether that’s bringing them food, cleaning out their homes, doing yard work or just giving them a smile and a hug, it all helps,” said Gaudet.
Three days after removing the debris from Guy’s property the 81-year-old passed away. Gaudet is grateful the work of Cajun Navy Ground Force lifted the burden for Guy’s widow Lucy as the recovery continues.
“They keep coming back. Do you need something? Can we do this for you? A bunch of great people and without them I don’t know where I’d be,” says Bohanick.
Bohanick is now living in a camper on his property with a generator and no running water. While it is an improvement from how they found him, Gaudet says there are still unmet needs that must be addressed to bring restoration and recovery after Hurricane Ian.
“We are a small non-profit. We are seeking additional funding to be able to do more. We have a system in place that will let us scale very easily but we can only do so much without significant funding in place to be able to scale,” says Gaudet.
Help Cajun Navy Ground Force continue their mission and consider donating at Give.GoCajunNavy.org.