Baltimore steps up to offer hurricane relief rescue and aid to battered Southwest Florida


Faygie Holt | Special to the JT

Though separated by more than 1,000 miles, Baltimore’s Jewish community has embraced those in Southwest Florida who have lost nearly everything in Hurricane Ian by helping to raise funds for rebuilding efforts and providing search-and-rescue assistance.

Air and Machine Operation crews respond to affected areas along Florida’s coast in the wake of Hurricane Ian. (Ozzy Trevino/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

To date, more than 100 people have been reported to have died as a result of the at-times Category 4 hurricane that ripped through the state in September, many drowning in the record-breaking storm surge as Ian decimated barrier islands like Sanibel and Pine in Southwest Florida before crossing the state, causing significant flooding in the central part. It then turned up the coast, slamming into North and South Carolina. Damage from Hurricane Ian is expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters ever with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

Among those locals lending a hand were members of the Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore, a local volunteer medical service.

At 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, just hours after the end of Rosh Hashanah, the group was contacted by Yehiel Kalish, CEO of the central Hatzalah organization, who asked them to go to Florida and help the local Hatzalah group there as the hurricane was set to hit the state hard.

Just 30 minutes later, three emergency responders headed to the Sunshine State in one of the organization’s ambulances.

In Florida, the volunteers from Baltimore joined with Hatzalah members from South Florida at Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers, Fla., which was being used as an emergency shelter. “No amount of historical data on hurricanes could’ve prepared us for the scene we would soon encounter,” said one of the volunteers. “The streets were like flowing rivers with actual fish swimming in them. Houses had water as high as three-feet deep and roofs blown off.”

At 3 a.m., in the pitch-dark of night and with no power anywhere, their first task was to rescue people from their homes and bring them to safety. The first family they helped included a single mother and her three kids, who were stuck in their house scared, cold and wet. Inside the warm ambulance, the family smiled, and the volunteers knew the trip had been “worth it.”

The Baltimore Hatzalah volunteers were also tasked with performing welfare checks on elderly residents since phone lines were down and family members were desperate to reach them. That meant driving around storm-ravaged county roads to find them and report back to the families.

The volunteers returned to Baltimore tired and hungry on Sept. 30 just hours before Shabbat.

Elsewhere, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore has established The Associated’s 2022 Hurricane Ian Emergency Relief Fund, with 100% of donations going to relief and recovery efforts. Funds will help support food, shelter, medical supplies and basic needs for all those impacted by Hurricane Ian in Florida and the Carolinas.

“When Hurricane Ian came ashore in Florida and the Carolinas, it left untold devastation to many homes and businesses. Rebuilding these communities will be a long and difficult process. Our Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam compel us to help our neighbors, especially those facing unexpected challenges,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated.

This is not the first time that the Baltimore federation has pitched in when needed; it has created similar funds after other natural disasters.

Said Terrill: “We are very fortunate that we are part of a Federation system that is uniquely poised to assess what is happening on the ground and can provide the resources to those who need it most.”

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