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Man heads south to help storm victims

By TRACI HASTINGS

Chronicle Staff Writer

CHAPLIN — A Chaplin man is on an epic two-week trip, which he began over Labor Day weekend.

William Hooper isn’t on a relaxing vacation, however. He has far more labor-intensive goals in mind, helping areas devastated by two powerful storms.

Hooper, an emergency medical technician, left for Houston in a U-Haul, planning to bring supplies to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Community members donated supplies before he left and he also started a funding campaign to assist with financial donations.

Hooper told his friends and family in a Facebook post he felt it was his duty to go.

“When Katrina hit, I had no applicable training. When the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa, (Ala.), I was a month away from getting married. When Sandy hit New York City, I was at home with a newborn. Now Harvey hit Houston — and I am a wilderness-trained emergency medical technician with the schedule, flexibility and family support to head down south to help,” his post read.

After a talk with his understanding family, Hooper, along with medic Michaela Caplan, drove across the country, while his wife stayed in Connecticut to work and care for their young child with the help of Hooper’s mother.

Hooper and Caplan arrived in Houston Sept. 5, helping there before moving to Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, to offer assistance there.

They did whatever was needed most.

“We moved debris. We handed out supplies. We ran medical clinics,” Hooper said.

But while they were in Texas post-Harvey, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, striking last weekend.

Hooper and a new volunteer, Andrew Aponick, who came from New York to help hurricane victims, decided the need for assistance was now greater in Florida, so they restocked supplies, rented a new truck and got back on the road.

They had planned to head to Tampa, where they had connections, but before they reached their destination, they were notified there was more damage and more people in need in Jacksonville.

So they changed direction, becoming two of the earliest responders to reach there in Irma’s wake.

“I’m watching the river slant,” said Hooper, who spoke with the Chronicle from Jacksonville Monday night.

Irma’s storm surge caused record flooding from St. John’s River on Monday and Hooper and Aponick were ready to help where they were most needed.

Hooper and Caplan plan to stay in Florida the rest of the week and head back home to Connecticut Saturday.

In the meantime, donations can still be made to Hooper’s mission.

“In all honesty, in all disaster situations, money is always what’s needed most,” Hooper said. “All money goes to the venture — transportation, supplies, etc.

“Any extra left over will be given directly to organizations we’ve seen with our own eyes doing good work in the field. There is no waste, no overhead, no money diverted to fundraising or glossy brochures or salaries. Everything you give gets applied to disaster relief.”

So far, community members have raised almost $12,000 through Hooper’s fund.

“People in Connecticut have been very, very generous,” Hooper said.

Members of the community who wish to help Hooper’s campaign for hurricane relief can go online to www.plumfund.com/community-crowdfunding/heading-south-to-help.

 

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