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Tampa Bay residents coordinate supply drops, evacuations for Bahamas relief

Efforts range from a pledge to match up to $500,000 in donations to overseeing evacuations from Hope Town.
Volunteers and employees of ExecuJet and KForce load a Falcon 900 jet in the ExecuJet hanger at Tampa International Airport on Friday. Supplies and relief aid are going to the Bahamas.
Volunteers and employees of ExecuJet and KForce load a Falcon 900 jet in the ExecuJet hanger at Tampa International Airport on Friday. Supplies and relief aid are going to the Bahamas. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Sep. 6, 2019|Updated Sep. 6, 2019

While Hurricane Dorian spared much of Florida, its Category 5 strength devastated the Bahamas as it sat over the Caribbean country for days. Now, Tampa Bay residents are banding together to donate supplies, funds and their time to relief efforts.

“It could have been us,” said Ray Morganti, senior vice president of innovation at Kforce, a Tampa-based staffing agency.

Morganti is one of several Tampa Bay residents who is facilitating supply drops using private aircraft. Moved by the images of destruction he saw following the hurricane, Morganti coordinated with his employer and private aviation company ExecuJet to send 4,500 pounds of supplies on a private plane to Nassau, Bahamas, Friday afternoon. He and more than a dozen volunteers collected enough supplies for five more flights later next week.

ExecuJet employees Austin Kuczer (left) and Robert Gassert (right) load a  jet with supplies and relief aid at Tampa International Airport. | [Scott Keeler | Times]
ExecuJet employees Austin Kuczer (left) and Robert Gassert (right) load a jet with supplies and relief aid at Tampa International Airport. | [Scott Keeler | Times] [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Sol Relief, a St. Petersburg disaster relief nonprofit, is coordinating supply drops and evacuations with volunteer pilots and solicited donations. According to its Facebook page, John Auer, CEO of St. Petersburg-based American Strategic Insurance, agreed to match donations the nonprofit receives up to $500,000 over the next two weeks.

Stephen Swindal, chairman of Port Tampa Bay and majority owner of the tugboat operator Marine Towing, volunteered to take a flight of supplies for Sol to Nassau on his private plane Friday.

“It makes sense for plane owners to get together,” he said. “The least we can do is donate our aircraft and try to get goods and services to (the Bahamas) as fast as possible.”

St. Petersburg residents Brian Malone and his wife Kat Robinson-Malone are focusing their efforts on evacuations. The couple is the stateside arm of Hope Town Volunteer Fire & Rescue, an organization on the town’s island of Elbow Cay. The Malones are working from Tampa Bay to coordinate evacuations from Hope Town, where the storm made landfall.

Within the last three days, they helped evacuated more than 240 people to Nassau, Bahamas.

“Most of these people don’t need diapers,” said Robinson-Malone, professor at Eckerd College. “They need off the island.”

St. Petersburg resident Brian Malone holds his daughter, Wyannie Malone, in June at a museum in the Bahamas. His daughter and the museum are named after Malone's ancestor, who was one of the first settlers of Hope Town, Bahamas. [Courtesy of Kat Robinson-Malone]
St. Petersburg resident Brian Malone holds his daughter, Wyannie Malone, in June at a museum in the Bahamas. His daughter and the museum are named after Malone's ancestor, who was one of the first settlers of Hope Town, Bahamas. [Courtesy of Kat Robinson-Malone] [ Kat Robinson-Malone ]

Her husband worked for Hope Town Volunteer Fire & Rescue in a similar capacity in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd lashed the island, and took up a call to action after Hurricane Dorian hit. His connection to the area runs deep. Malone is an eighth-generation Bahamian whose great grandmother Wyannie Malone was among the first settlers in Hope Town. He and Robinson-Malone named their 4-year-old daughter after her.

Malone’s parents and much of his extended family still live on the island, and were found safe following the hurricane. Their home in Hope Town, as well as the homes of their family members, were destroyed.

“We’re just trying to get people out and safe,” Robinson-Malone said.

2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

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