While many in the Carolinas have their minds on Hurricane Florence, the rebuilding continues for victims of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, with help from volunteers like Elkin area residents Jeremy and Andrea Specht and Eric Shores.
For three months, the Spechts lived in their fifth-wheel camper in the front yard of another Jehovah’s Witness parishioner in Naples, Florida, along with another camper holding a volunteer couple from Alaska. The project was coordinated through the Spechts’ mission work with the Jehovah’s Witnesses disaster relief committee.
“I got invited to Puerto Rico first, but my wife wanted to help and there are only men’s barracks in Puerto Rico, so we took the camper to Naples first,” said Jeremy Specht, whose work is also sponsored through Elkin Insurance.
The Spechts arrived in Naples Feb. 5 and returned home around the first of May, he said. Then he and Shores left for a week of mission work in Puerto Rico.
“We worked with people from Maine, Alaska, Canada and a lot from the Midwest, and all over the United States, both in Naples and Puerto Rico,” Specht said.
The rebuilding didn’t really start in earnest in Puerto Rico until February, he explained, “because they had to stabilize structures, cover roofs, get people where they could survive and assess the damage and what was going to be rebuilt, order supplies, build barracks and kitchens to feed people.”
Specht said Puerto Rico already has so many homeless people because of the hurricane that mission crews couldn’t go in before barracks were built, because there was no where to house them.
“I’ve learned a lot this year,” he said. “The quality of work we were doing surpassed anything I’ve seen. We are building back structures to sustain Hurricane 5 strength.”
In Naples, he said roofs would cost $15,000 and require two inspections, where in Elkin, the roof would have cost $3,000.
Also, the heat was tremendous. “We would go through one and a half large coolers of water in a day. We went from 30 degrees in Elkin to 90 on a hot roof in Naples,” Specht said.
While some organizations charge for the assistance they provide homeowners, Specht said his disaster relief work was being provided by all volunteers. “We met people who where trying to make mortgage payments, rent payments on a temporary home and having to put a roof on,” he said of financial constraints of the residents.
“I’ve personally seen FEMA only give a couple hundred dollar checks to totally destroyed homes,” he said of the financial assistance from the government agency. “To actually go down and see it with my own eyes and share what I learn with other people, not burying my head in the sand.
“The homeowners never get charged for that, they never get a bill. I know because my wife has family that has lost everything,” Specht said.
He said his insurance clients in the Elkin area understand that during the winter months, he tries to make himself available when help is needed.
One of the perks of his mission work was how well they were fed, not only in Naples by families they were assisting, but in Puerto Rico as well. “They are just so very generous even when you know they don’t have that much to give. They were so appreciative,” he said.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.