Hurricane Irma: Inspiring Stories of People Helping People

Through tragedy and devastation, these people came together to help total strangers in need.

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ubans recover their belongings after the passage of Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and Southeastern United States. Millions have been evacuated, millions more left without power, and as the waters begin to recede and the clouds start to clear, stories of inspiring rescues and good Samaritans making a difference are starting to emerge.

Along with charitable organizations and nonprofits working to help victims of the storm recover (you can find a list of those here) some everyday citizens have stepped up to aid their friends, neighbors, and often complete strangers during this devastating time.

Here are some inspiring stories in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Kristen Bell’s Bingo Night

 

Actress Kristen Bell found herself stuck in Orlando, Florida when Hurricane Irma hit. Unable to evacuate, Bell instead decided to rescue the parents and extended family of her Frozen co-star Josh Gad who needed a safe spot to ride out the storm. Bell booked them a room in her hotel. The star also entertained “a few thousand” senior residents who had been relocated to the hotel for the duration of the storm, performing songs, staging wheelchair races in the lobby, and hosting a Bingo night. 

 

The Last Generator

Another story making headlines in Irma’s wake is that of Ramon Santiago who offered up his generator – the last to be found in a Lowe’s in Orlando – to Pam Brekke. Brekke had spent days searching for a generator to power her father’s night oxygen tank – he suffers with congestive heart failure and desperately needs that machine. She had almost given up hope of finding a generator until Santiago saw Brekke in the checkout line and offered up his own.

“I saw in her face that she was distressed, crying inconsolably and pacing back and forth,” Santiago, who speaks little English, told PEOPLE via translator Manuel Aragon. Because of the language barrier, Santiago didn’t understand the generator was for Brekke’s father, he thought she needed it to power her appliances during the storm, but thanks to a video taken by Nancy Alvarez, a morning television news anchor at Orlando’s WFTV, his act of kindness soon went viral and he was able to learn just how helpful he had been to Brekke and her family.

“He really believes that God played a role in all of this,” Alvarez said, translating for Santiago. “He’s saying, ‘let’s take this moment that we’re all here for each other, helping each other out and extend it beyond the hurricane. This storm is going to be out of here and when it is, let’s remember how we feel right now.'”

 

School Shelters

With so many people trying to evacuate before Irma hit, emergency shelters hit capacity early during the storm, leaving people stranded and desperate to find refuge. That’s why one school, Leaders Preparatory School outside of Orlando, decided to open its doors. The private Muslim school welcomed residents of the community who intended to ride out the Hurricane with food, beds, and games to entertain the kids. Nearly 20 families gathered there on Sunday with more expected to seek safety as the storm’s effects began to really be felt.

Bassem Chaaban, director of outreach for the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said the school was prepared to stay open through the week to help anyone in need. “We’re tracking the storm just like everybody else,” Chaaban told Mic. “Anybody who’s seeking shelter, coming from Tampa, south Florida ... we have plenty of room. We stand united with everybody in central Florida.” 

Cruise Ship Rescues

A handful of major cruise lines that regularly visit the Caribbean have deployed ships to the area to rescue stranded residents. Hurricane Irma decimated many of the smaller islands, leaving homes destroyed and people with nowhere to go. Royal Caribbean announced over the weekend that it would be sending two ships to St. Thomas and St. Maarten, islands that had been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line is deploying a ship to St. Thomas to pick up 2,000 residents who weren’t able to evacuate the island before the storm.

Kenny Chesney Lends A Hand

Country music star Kenny Chesney not only lent his home on the island of St. John to residents looking to ride out the storm, he’s also launched a foundation to help victims rebuild following Hurricane Irma. The Love for Love City Foundation is currently taking donations to help people affected by the storm recover. Chesney also opened his doors to neighbors on the island who needed shelter during the storm.

“I had 200 [miles per hour] wind-tested windows throughout my house, and every window in the house just blew out, so these people were really scared,” Chesney told HLN’s Robin Meade. “They found more shelter in a big closet and were in that closet for a long time, and they made it. Luckily, a lot of people made it.”

Chesney hopes his foundation can aid in efforts to restore people’s homes, provide medical care, and other necessary supplies. “These communities are facing an uphill battle. And they’re facing years of cleanup,” Chesney explained. “So many people are displaced. And, yes, we will rebuild, and we will recover. And the people I know there, and the people I’ve grown to love, they’re really hard workers. And they’ve got great hearts, and it’s hard to rock them even with a hurricane of this size. That’s the thing I’m most proud of is my island family has a lot of heart, we’re going to recover … but it’s going to take a lot of help.”

Animal Rescues

Hurricane Irma has also displaced furry companions. The Anti-Cruelty Society had over 30 dogs and cats flown into Chicago from shelters around Lee County, Florida to escape the storm. All of the pets will receive physicals and be put up for adoption in the coming weeks.

On Monday, MSNBC reporter Kerry Sanders helped rescue two dolphins stranded on a beach on Marco Island, Florida. The storm beached the animals – they were believed to be a mother and her pup – and Sanders, with the help of some bystanders, was able to get them safely back out to sea.

A group of Florida residents sprang into action when they discovered two manatees stranded after the storm. Hurricane Irma had caused a local bay to dry up, leaving the gentle giants stuck in the mud nearly 100 yards from deeper waters.

“We had to do something about it,” local resident Tony Faradini-Campos told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “We couldn’t just let those manatees die out there. We shared the pictures on social media and it just blew up.” The group reached out to deputies in the area and officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who came to help transport the manatees back to sea using a tarp.

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