Israeli teams on the ground to help with Hurricane Irma disaster

Several Israel aid teams are working their way through areas hit by Hurricane Irma, offering help in any way they can.  

Israeli volunteers are already at work in Florida, bringing light in the darkness, sometimes literally, to the area devastated by Hurricane Irma.

ZAKA Search and Rescue teams are operating in the North Miami Beach area. As soon as the five ZAKA volunteers arrived in Florida from their week-long clean-up operation in Houston, they joined forces with C.S.E. Miami (Chesed Shel Emes), under the direction of Mark Rosenberg, to help the local community.

ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein flew in from Israel to lead the team.

“We are working in the area which is without power, helping families with sick children and elderly people who were unable to evacuate from the area,” Goldstein said.

The team is working in coordination with the local emergency forces and the North Miami Beach Police.

The team removed a fallen tree that was blocking access to a resident’s home and helped restore power. “I’m so grateful that you guys are here and can communicate with the police force,” said local resident Mr. Franz. “You saved my life”.

Local police chief Major Richard Rand expressed his gratitude to the team who came to join the community. “This is an unbelievable effort. People [the rescuers, are] going from house to house at 01:30 in the morning when everyone else is sleeping, to make sure they are safe.”

The Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC) and United Hatzalah (UH) Search and Rescue team departed from Israel on Saturday night and landed in Atlanta early Sunday morning. The team stocked up on supplies to bring to battered Florida but was grounded due to severe tornado warnings that affected the area of Atlanta and southern Georgia all throughout Sunday.

Not wanting to lose any precious time that could be spent helping Florida evacuees, the team headed to the Beth Jacob synagogue of Toco Hills where the congregation and synagogue itself were providing food and shelter for some 1,500 Irma evacuees.

The Orthodox Synagogue of Beth Jacob and its congregation took it upon themselves to house and feed the evacuees, who traveled north in order to escape the devastation of Hurricane Irma. As reported by Fox 5 News in Atlanta, Rabbi Adam Stein of Beth Jacob Synagogue said, “This has been a very difficult time, but also a beautiful time; one in which communities have come together.”

Reaching Out to the Victims in any Way Possible

Dr. Shula Wittenstein, part of the IRC and UH team who is working as an EMS responder as well as a member of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response team, spoke about why the team felt it was important that they stop to help the evacuees in Atlanta.

“We know what it’s like living in a country with a lot of terror, where we feel the impact every day. This is a different type of experience and challenge but it still involves a certain amount of tragedy and loss for many people,” Wittenstein explained, saying their objective is “to reach out to these people in any way we can and help them immediately in the best and most professional way possible. It is pretty obvious that we have a big job to do here and I hope that we will be able to help as many people as we can. ”

Wittenstein is a psychologist who volunteers with United Hatzalah in Israel by providing psychological and emotional stabilization and first aid to people who need it in the immediate aftermath of traumatic situations.

“It’s amazing to see people from different backgrounds coming together to help out. For me, this is certainly coming out of my comfort zone. In Israel, we are used to helping individuals, even a lot of individuals in mass casualty incidents (MCI’s), but here we are seeing entire communities lose everything they had in one moment. It is a very difficult thing to go through,” said Wittenstein.

Wittenstein has suffered a fire that destroyed her home, and she has also lived through the death of her brother. She said that what helped her get through both of those experiences were “people who expressed their caring from the heart.”

After the team got to work assisting evacuees in the synagogue and waited out the tornado warnings, they continued on to Savannah to spend the night On Monday morning the team assisted residents of a retirement facility that had lost power before continuing to make their way down to Florida.

The team consists of eight Israeli team members and another two members from the US.

The organization has a US office which is dedicating almost all of its resources to providing logistical support and organizing community assistance.

By: World Israel News Staff
With files from ZAKA and United Hatzalah