After four hurricanes pounded the southeastern United States, Scout units organized to help out, because…
In a six-week period last summer and early fall, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeannesmashed into Florida and other southeastern states.
Along the storms’ paths of destruction through the Sunshine State and beyond, Scouters and Scouts from near and far quickly organized to be of help to people in need.
The total extent of Scout relief work may never be known, but here are some examples from three councils within which the storms made landfall.
AUG. 13: CHARLEY
Hurricane Charley tore into Florida’s southwest coast with estimated 145-mile-per-hour winds, making it a Category 4 storm in strength at landfall. Moving on a northeast course through the Southwest Florida Council, the storm devastated Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte and then churned through Arcadia.
Scouts from Troop 543 handed out ice, water, and food at a relief center.
Photograph Courtesy of Tony Lawless, Troop 543
The following morning, five Sarasota troops, two of them with Venturing crews, brought 125 adults and youth to Arcadia. They removed debris and fallen trees and cooked meals for residents and volunteers.
With temperatures in the 90′s and nearly 100 percent humidity, the volunteers worked four days in a mobile home park that was “basically pretty well destroyed,” said Andy Dorr, Two Rivers District commissioner and Troop 103 assistant Scoutmaster. “We were stabilizing a chaotic situation.”
“It’s overwhelming when you first get there and try to decide where to start,” said Dorr’s son Alex, 14. “It was really moving to help those people in need after such a catastrophic event, a good feeling to be able to help them get their lives back together.”
In one month, the five troops worked an accumulated 2,000 hours.
To coordinate relief efforts, the Southwest Florida Council relayed requests for assistance from Scouters, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army to Scout units. A week after Charley struck, 180 Scouters, Scouts, and parents from Osceola District in Florida’s east coast Gulf Stream Council arrived in Arcadia. They brought donated construction equipment, roofing materials, and 10,000 pounds of food.
“We were one of the first responders in certain areas,” said Scouter Tom Ehrbar, whose Troop 337 organized the intense work day.
No one imagined they’d soon do the same in their own council.
SEPT. 5: FRANCES
When Hurricane Frances roared ashore at the east coast towns of Stuart and Port Salerno, the Gulf Stream Council, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, took a direct hit from 105-m.p.h. winds (Category 2 hurricane).
Council staff operating without electricity for 10 days compiled damage assessments, listed projects, and contacted troops. School Night for Scouting was severely hampered in the Gulf Stream Council’s hardest hit communities, where families struggled with damaged homes, Federal Emergency Management Agency claims, widespread power and phone outages, and school closures. But volunteers and staff were committed to ensuring that every closed school have a School Night and that no youth be denied the Scouting experience.
In Fort Walton Beach, Florida Governor Jeb Bush visited with Troop 543, whose special training had helped them respond quickly to the emergency.
Photograph Courtesy of Tony Lawless, Troop 543
The council’s Tanah Keeta Scout Reservation suffered $250,000 in damage to buildings. Its waterfront was wiped out, and 2,000 trees knocked down.
Scouting families worked entire weekends clearing trees and debris, even when their own homes needed repairs. They readied camp buildings to house utility workers from outside the area.
The volunteers from the council’s Osceola District swung into action again, taking equipment, food, and volunteers to Port Salerno. They used the same formula they’d relied on in Arcadia weeks earlier. Scouter Doug Paton of Troop 337 knocked on doors, informing residents that “The Boy Scouts are here to assist you.”
Adults worked on roofs, while Scouts handed materials and drinking water up to them, cleared yards, talked with residents, and cooked and served food.
“The boys had a tremendous impact on making a difference,” said Tom Ehrbar. “This was a direct relief effort. They could see people were happy that someone cared.”
“It felt good to know people could live in their houses again,” said Paton’s son, Jamie, 12. “People were so grateful when we came.”
SEPT. 16: IVAN
After Hurricane Ivan’s 130-m.p.h. winds (Category 3 hurricane) and storm surge decimated Florida’s panhandle coast around the Gulf Coast Council‘s headquarters city of Pensacola, Scouter Marilee Martin described the scene: Houses were gone, “like they were never there.”
Half the families in Martin’s Pack 102 in their community of Gulf Breeze were seriously affected.
A third lost all their belongings, and more than a dozen of them lost their homes.
Scouters responded to the needs of their fellow Scouters and others, repairing homes and clearing trees.
Donated funds were used to replace boys’ and leaders’ uniforms and handbooks and boys’ awards. Cub Scouts and their families went through their clothing and toys to find items to take to a pack meeting, so other members could choose from them.
Cub Scouts from Pack 102 in Gulf Breeze provided replacement Scouting items for families who lost their belongings when Hurricane Ivan hit the Florida panhandle.
Photograph Courtesy Of Marilee Martin, Pack 102
“We’re very close-knit,” said Martin.
On its Web site, the council posted the message, “We’re back; call us if you need help.” Meanwhile, calls came from across the nation, saying, “If Scouters lost uniforms or camping equipment, we’ll send what we have.”
East of Pensacola, in the Gulf Coast town of Fort Walton Beach, Troop 543 had been trained as a Community Emergency Response Team by a local fire department.
As a result, as soon as the storm ended, the Scouts were ready to check on their neighbors and then volunteer with state forestry employees at a relief distribution center, handing out ice, water, and meals-ready-to-eat.
During a visit to the devastated area, Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked the Scouts why they were working so hard in helping the relief effort.
“We’re Scouts,” one boy replied. “This is what we do!”
SEPT. 25: JEANNE
With Gulf Stream Council’s recovery from Frances under way, residents couldn’t believe that Hurricane Jeanne would make landfall in the same area, only with stronger, 120-m.p.h. winds (Category 3 hurricane). School Night for Scouting events rescheduled due to Hurricane Frances were, in many cases, rescheduled a second time.
Again Tanah Keeta Scout Reservation was hit, sustaining another $50,000 in damage, and much of the previous repair work was undone.
Undaunted, Scouting families continued working at the camp. Tom Ehrbar’s team arrived with front-end loaders, huge tree chippers, and 150 volunteers. Scouts moved cut-up trees and raked.
“We needed to make it safe because a Cub Scout camporee was scheduled,” said Ehrbar.
In the Southwest Florida Council in Fort Myers, the final three hurricane alerts caused School Night for Scouting cancellations and reschedulings, resulting in an estimated loss of more than 2,000 potential new members. A foundation grant allowed the council to work with schools to find youth interested in Scouting.
That everyone was anxious to get on with his or her daily activities was demonstrated in November at the Gulf Stream Council’s annual Scout Advancement Weekend. The event, which usually attracts 700 people, drew nearly 2,000.
“Everybody just wants to get back to normal,” Scout Executive Harold (Woody) Woodward reported.
Woodward expressed feelings that ran through all the councils affected by the violent storms of 2004.
“It’s been special to see people coming together in rough times…,” he reflected. “It’s amazing, the spirit of the folks here, that you can experience two major hurricanes in three weeks and bounce back the way they have.
“It’s going to take a while for the area to recover economically; it was severely damaged. But I believe in the spirit of the people here and the spirit of Scouting. I’m excited about the future.”