STUART, Fla., Oct. 13, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Over the past four days residents of Stuart, Florida and its neighboring cities in, a massive hurricane relief drive, provided nearly 100,000 pounds of items for The Bahamas' hurricane victims in Grand Bahama and Andros.
On Thursday, October 6th Hurricane Matthew plowed across the northern part of The Bahamas, as a category four storm, packing winds of up to 140 miles per hour. Although Bahamians had heeded warnings and prepared for the force of the storm, while sparing lives, Hurricane Matthew caused major damage and destruction to buildings, homes, electrical and communications infrastructure throughout New Providence, Grand Bahama and Andros Island.
Grand Bahama was one of the hardest hit and, with utility poles down, much of the island continues to be without power. It has been predicted that power may not be restored for weeks.
Against this background the residents of Stuart, Florida rallied to assist The Bahamas and donations have been pouring in. Private pilots have been using their time, fuel and planes to drop off a wide array of relief items from tarp and generators to food, water and basic personal items.
The massive operation out of Stuart Jet Center is the brainchild of Joseph Rieger, the owner of Blue Marlin Cove in Grand Bahama. Mr. Rieger orchestrated the outreach through his many contacts in the area and the owners/operators of the Jet Center, Jeff Cappen and his brothers, donated one of their hangers for the staging of the relief efforts.
On Wednesday Bahamas Minister of Tourism, and Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini, Obie Wilchcombe, released a formal statement expressing gratitude to Mr. Rieger and the people of Stuart for all that they are doing.
"It is with profound gratitude and appreciation, as the Member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama and Bimini, that I extend my appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the constituents to Mr. Joe Rieger of Blue Marlin Cove in Bootle Bay," he said.
"Mr. Rieger has tirelessly led a relief effort to assist the people by coordinating the collection of supplies, transportation and distribution to the community. Because of his efforts, a relief kitchen has been organized in West End. His efforts have also resulted in the preparation and distribution of relief packages. I am most grateful to him and his staff who have diligently, and with integrity, managed the process."
Patrick Aldrich, one of the lead organizers on the ground at the Jet Center, said that when the project began organizers thought that they would only be sending out a few planes to assist. Mr. Aldrich said he never imagined that the operation would grow to such a large undertaking where planes are flying out throughout the day with supplies and donations are pouring in rapidly.
He said that the efforts began on social media and went viral. "It just got blown up," he said. "People just kept sharing the information and even the media found out about it."
Dozens of volunteers are being used to assist in the efforts, from school children to church organizations and others who simply want to just lend a hand. The volunteers include persons from as far north as St. Augustine, which was also hit by Hurricane Matthew last week.
Jeff Capen shared why he was so happy to assist with the relief effort for The Bahamas. "I travel to The Bahamas and vacation there. I have friends there, wanted to help as soon as possible, and I wanted to be sure that the people who were affected by the storm were taken care of," he said.
The volunteers over the past few days have included students from Treasure Coast High School Junior Air Force ROTC. The students have been helping with the unloading of donations as they arrive, packing items and loading them onto planes for delivery.
Another group of volunteers assisting is from Empowered Masters Commission, a Bible College in Lake Wales, FL.
The operation at the Jet Center in Florida will continue through Friday, when remaining items will be taken down to South Florida to SEACOR Island Lines, where vessels there will ship the supplies to the islands.
SEACOR Island Lines is a shipping company that transports cargo to all of The Bahamas. Mike LaFleur, CEO of the company, said that they are working with private enterprises, foundations and individuals to ship relief cargo to the islands especially Andros and Freeport.
Of the massive operation in Stuart, Florida, he said "we are really hoping to replicate this effort down south." He added that his company would be assisting in relief efforts as long as needed because it has been operating in The Bahamas for years. "We are a part of the community and we want to help our friends, our colleagues, and the businesses."
When the relief operations in Stuart end on Friday, donations will continue to be collected at SEACOR Island Lines, 1300 Eller Drive, Fort Lauderdale tel 954-929-9292.
The Islands Of The Bahamas have a place in the sun for everyone. Each island has its own personality and attractions for a variety of vacation styles with some of the world's best scuba diving, fishing, sailing, boating, as well as, shopping and dining. The destination offers an easily accessible tropical getaway and provides convenience for travelers with preclearance through U.S. customs and immigration, and the Bahamian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar. Do everything or do nothing, just remember It's Better in The Bahamas. For travel packages, activities and accommodations information, call 1-800-Bahamas or visit www.Bahamas.com. Look for The Bahamas on the web on Facebook Twitter and YouTube
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Source:Bahamas Ministry of Tourism