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Hundreds help with storm cleanup

By Staff | Jan 15, 2016

If the clean up after the tornado on Sunday was classified as “neighbors helping neighbors,” then Thursday’s massive effort can be described as “strangers helping strangers.”

More than 500 volunteers, a dozen eateries and countless companies came together on the corner of Aqualinda and Beach boulevards, the staging area for one of the biggest coming together events that Cape Coral has seen.

Volunteers knocked on doors, picked up trash, cut down trees and did whatever they could to help those who were devastated by Saturday evening’s tornado that ripped through the Southwest Cape, causing millions in damage and leaving many without homes, clothing and other necessities.

“We are going to an area to find things and we go put people there. We are delivering water, cleaning supplies, we have landscapers and tree cutters cutting up trees for neighbors. We have trucks taking trash out to dumpsters,” said Susan Bennett, one of the organizers.

While much of what was picked up was trash, some was treasure. One group found someone’s checkbook, credit cards and insurance policies for return to the respective owner. A lost and found was created so that pictures, furniture and other items could be collected for return.

On Sands Boulevard, a woman with an injured pet was able to secure a vet to get the animal on the road to recovery.

On the corner of Southwest 43rd Terrace and 26th Court, a dredging was done, with everything found there to be piled up and sorted through to see if they belong to anyone.

City Councilmember Rana Erbrick was there and was amazed by the enormous outpouring of support for an event that was just thought of on Tuesday.

“This is what Cape Coral does the best. We come together in a crisis. I came out to give those people the thank you that they need and deserve for helping people they don’t even know,” Erbrick said. “I have friends who were in the path and all the help they’ve gotten is appreciated.”

More than a dozen eateries offered up free food to volunteers and victims of the tornado. Walmart has contributed clothing, and more than five pallets of water have been delivered, Bennett said. Even LCEC, which spent nights and days bringing power back to the area, returned to volunteer in the pickup effort.

Jay Johnson, owner of Bubba’s Roadhouse, was cooking up free hot dogs and chicken for people who wanted it, even though he’s from the other side of town.

“We may be from different areas, but it’s one community. I’m cooking for everyone, ‘Johnson said. “I am beyond amazed by the participation. Looking around there are a dozen restaurants who either dropped off food or are still cooking.”

Vince Biasella, another organizer, said the support is astronomical. He was at the supply tent where toiletries and other necessities were piled up, ready to be sent to the victims.

“The people have come together to help their neighbors. We’re still getting donations of everything for babies to adults,” Biasella said.

The ground troops, such as Karen Cooper and Julie Sauter, were out helping to cut up trees and clean up at a house on Beach Parkway. For them, it was the least they could do.

“It’s clean right now, but these houses are condemned. We’ve been separating the vegetation and the metal and garbage,” Cooper said. “We went door to door asking if they needed help. If they did, we helped, if not, we moved on.”

“We’ve been taking the chain saw and cutting trees while others have taken the brush from the palm trees and are bringing it to the roadside,” said Sauter, who didn’t sign up as a volunteer, but showed up to help for a while.

A few doors down, on the corner of Southwest 18th Ave. and 42nd Street, another group was also helping and made significant improvements in the three hours they were there, loading up the garbage in a trailer being pulled by a pickup truck.

“We’ve made a huge dent here,” said Megan Kalina, who got help from people from east Fort Myers. “We’re just going to places where there’s trash. The damage is unreal.

“We volunteered because they need the help. It’s what people do,” said Laurie Norman. “All the blue tarps, you can see what happened.”