Since Dorian hit the Bahamas two weeks ago, Florida Tech has proved to be a united front, sending thousands of supplies over on countless relief missions.
The university’s College of Aeronautics alumni group was the first to spring to action by coordinating relief missions out of the Orlando Melbourne International Airport as early as Thursday, Sept. 5, just four days after the hurricane made landfall in the Bahamas.
Issac Silver, the associate dean of the College of Aeronautics, was one of the pilots that flew supplies over via Florida Tech’s Navajo Chieftain Piper aircraft.
“When we first landed in Abaco, it was basically like a post-apocalyptic movie,” Silver said. “There were virtually no people, maybe one or two here and there, but everything and everyone was practically gone.”
So far, Silver has made eight trips to multiple locations on the northern Bahamas island of Abaco, including Marsh Harbor and Sandy Point.
In addition to flying the Navajo, Silver has also been flying a C-47— Tico Belle.
Tico Belle was used during D-day to drop allied paratroopers over France.
The plane now serves as a memorial plane at Valiant Air Command, a warbird museum located at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Brevard County.
So far, approximately 4,000 pounds of supplies have been flown over on the Navajo Chieftain and an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 pounds on the Tico Belle.
Silver also touched on the fact that the relief missions have evolved over the past week and will continue to do so with the possibility of future relief missions.
The first time the wheels hit the ground in the Bahamas, the goal was to provide water and food to the hundreds of people waiting to be evacuated.
However, as more and more people escaped the aftermath and devastation, that quickly changed.
“Our next mission will actually be a mobile field hospital, but there is still a huge need for humanitarian support,” Silver said.
From Boy Scout troops to local churches, numerous organizations have been volunteering alongside Florida Tech students.
The community outreach has been tremendous based off of testimonials from Alex Coultroup.
A graduate student majoring in aviation human factors, Coultroup was one individual who took a different perspective on the types of donations she wanted to send.
“As someone who cares a lot about women’s issues, I wanted to collect things like tampons and pads, diapers and wipes to fulfill those needs,” Colutroup said.
Raising awareness through her extensive updates on social media, Coultorup also brought attention to the value of cash donations, citing that for one round trip to fly Tico Belle it costs $4,500 for oil, fuel and maintenance.
Working beside Colutroup, Florida Tech alumni Marteen Edwards also devoted his time to loading up supplies onto planes.
A recent graduate with a masters in aviation management, the Barbados native explained how growing up in the Caribbean made him understand how powerful and damaging a natural disaster like this could be.
“It’s knowing the type of destructive power and knowing what a hurricane can do to your country that when you see it happen to someone else you’re inclined to give them a hand,” Edwards said.
In the midst of loading supplies onto the Tico Belle and other Florida Tech Navajo planes, Edwards heard many tales of what the islands now looked like.
“The most common thing I hear from pilots coming back is that the devastation is tremendous, and it looks as if a bomb had just gone off,” Edwards said.
The bottled water, hygiene products, batteries, cans of tuna fish and other perishable food items that Colutroup and Edwards have been loading onto planes have been coming from numerous student organizations on campus.
For example, Florida Tech’s student athletic advisory committee recently partnered up with the women’s soccer team at their first home game on Sept. 7.
“One of of SAAC’s main purposes is to have a positive influence on the community,” said Vanessa Rubio, a senior on the softball team and the president of SAAC. “After seeing the devastation in the Bahamas, there was no way we could just stand by and do nothing,” Rubio said.
Another student organization partaking in supply drives was the Caribbean Student Association.
Florida Tech’s CSA chapter has multiple Bahamian students.
All of them reported that their families were safe on the island; however, some of them have friends and others they are waiting to hear back from.
Malika Forbes, the vice president of CSA and native to Nassau, said that they have raised $700 in cash donations and collected roughly 500 pounds of supplies.
“What we keep trying to say is yes, it happened to the Bahamas, but it could happen anywhere,” Forbes said. “As Caribbean students, we need to step up and take action because if it was any other island we would be doing the exact same thing.”
To date, 13,000 people are missing in the Bahamas, 15,000 are in need of shelter or food based on reports from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and 50 are dead with that number expected to rise according to reports from CNN and USA Today.
Florida Tech’s president T. Dwayne McCay elaborated on how the university’s diverse student body—representing over 125 countries—demonstrates how a global and connected campus can lead to strides in humanitarian efforts.
“We see firsthand how compassion knows no borders,” McCay stated in an email. “One of our goals as a university is to help develop global citizens, and part of achieving that is to demonstrate through our actions the love and concern we have for those who may be struggling.”
Furthermore, Dr. McCay said this was not the first time Florida Tech has participated in a relief mission.
When hurricane Michael hit the panhandle last year, and when Maria slashed into Puerto Rico in 2017, Florida Tech was there, aiding in supply deliveries and evacuations.
“We got lucky this time when the storm stayed off our coast,” McCay stated. “At some point, when we are not as lucky, someone will help us. Human beings must take care of each other, and this is a way we can make a difference.”