Historic City News editor Michael Gold, our contributors, sponsors and advertisers, all were affected by the damage unleashed by hurricanes Matthew and Irma. Our office was under more than two-feet of standing water. Our local base of twenty-five thousand daily readers were each touched by the storms and many face continuing hardship for the foreseeable future.
Mayor Nancy Shaver led the community through both life-threatening disasters with courage, patience, and commitment to rebuild our lives.
Shaver told Historic City News that new friends from her old home town in Maine were among the volunteers who came to St Augustine when the outlook was bleak to say the least. She shared a note that was sent to two arborists who rounded up a crew and came to help clear fallen and damaged trees.
When you are in a small town in Florida and you’ve been hit with your second hurricane in 11 months, it’s not a good day. And when you realize the rest of the state had also been hit — and then there was Texas — your expectations of help from other places isn’t real high.
Then, Nathaniel Bernier and Juan Alcala showed up from Belfast, Maine, with supplies, chain saws and muscle and that Maine work ethic. What a true blessing — and what a coincidence — from my other home town!
The difference they made to the St. Francis House, our homeless shelter, and the Homeless Coalition was immense and to countless other homeowners, making fallen trees disappear, moving boxes and just generally helping was immense.
In Lincolnville Maine, Nathaniel Bernier was chatting with his girlfriend about the relief situation in Florida as he was watching the Irma aftermath. He is the owner of Bantam Property Management and a licensed utility arborist, a skill that was needed for the tree cleanup. He put up a “Go Fund Me” account and set out collecting donations from everyone he could reach.
He left Rockport Maine for St Augustine on September 11 after picking up volunteer Juan Alcala. Bernier’s pickup truck, its bed loaded with arborist gear and donations, made several stops and kept loading up more cases of water and donated supplies including toiletries, first aid kits, batteries, pet food, as well as hundreds of toothbrushes and other dental supplies from a dentist’s office in Waldoboro. The final stop was in Ayer, Mass., for diapers and other baby supplies.
They reached St Johns County about 27-hours later. The 1,400-mile trip included trucking through pouring rain, fog and tedious traffic jams. The drivers traded cat naps to stay alert. When they arrived in the downtown St Augustine area, they saw first-hand the destruction that Irma left behind.
The next four days included wearing heavy chaps, helmets and hauling around heavy chainsaws in 90-degree plus weather while they removed numerous trees and debris that were blocking roads. Some of the fallen trees had landed on power lines and this removal was only handled by Bernier, since he is licensed to perform this type of work.
Shaver said that she visited with the men before they returned home. They told her it was difficult to leave after seeing the scope of damage and how grateful everyone was for any amount of relief.
Alcala told a reporter for The Penobscot Bay Pilot that when they arrived at Shaver’s residence, she greeted them with a big smile and a hug.
“She invited us into her home and we spoke for about a half an hour about the city, the devastation and our mission,” Alcala said. “As we were leaving, she asked if we had the time to help out a couple with a husband who was recovering open heart surgery in Vilano Beach and without hesitation, we said yes.”
Afterwards, it was finally time to prepare to leave for the journey back to Maine; and, leaving was not easy. The men said that they could have easily stayed here for a month to continue the cleanup. They arrived back in Maine on the morning of September 18th.
“Florida may be behind us for now, but we will never forget,” said Bernier. “We are humbled. We are grateful. We are smiling. We are tired.”