Answering the Call for Help

Local resident Mike Leum was part of the team that tarped houses to ensure the roofs and windows were waterproof.
Photos provided by Mike LEUM


The clean up from Hurricane Ian continues in Florida with many still in temporary housing, some living in only a portion of their house and many left to decide if they will rebuild.

Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 27. In Cuba, it was classified as a Category 3 storm. It then headed for Florida. It registered winds at 150 mph near Cayo Costa, a barrier island west of Fort Myers, on Sept. 28. It topped sustained winds of 155 mph just hours before making landfall. It was a Category 4 hurricane, just two miles per hour shy of reaching Category 5. It weakened to a tropical storm as it moved inland and moved across Florida, but regained strength over the Atlantic Ocean as it made its way to South Carolina.

Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Ian, residents in this house were preparing for a garage sale.

The death toll has been reported to be 109 people in 19 Florida counties.

All areas of Florida have been affected –housing, business and agricultural. According to the University of Florida – Food and Resource Economics Dept., the hurricane impacted five million acres of agricultural lands, 60% of which is grazing land accounting for $8.12 billion of agricultural products. And the clean-up for residents and business in both Florida and North Carolina is estimated to be anywhere from $40 billion to $70 billion.

Estimates and studies are one thing but for those who have returned to their houses to find them destroyed, it is a personal tragedy for themselves and their neighbors.

“It was devastating,” said Mike Leum. “That’s the best word for it far and wide: devastation.”

Leum is a local volunteer, including being a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue team. He and fellow MSAR team member Robert Sheedy headed to Florida to lend a hand.

Leum is someone who finds it difficult to sit back and watch people in need and not do something. He has worked with Third Wave Volunteers, a non-profit organization that focused on special needs orphans stuck in Kyiv who have U.S. parents waiting for them. He traveled to Ukraine with fellow emergency responders Dr. John Rodarte and Jack Osbourne to help organize a safe journey for these children. His most recent trip was to Florida with Team Rubicon to help those who were affected by Hurricane Ian.

Each day the team Leum was part of would be given work orders and addresses of those in need. A lot of times they would follow their GPS (Global Positioning System) but arrived not to find a house – only the wreckage left behind by the storm.

“It was shocking that some people were still in their homes,” he said.

Houses often consisted of a small room. He spoke about a 99-year-old woman who was living in the back corner of her mobile home. She had no family and was in a 10×10 square foot living area with no utilities.

Team Rubicon was formed in 2010 after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The call for help was made and two U.S. Marines ­– Jake Wood and William McNulty – knew they could help. They, along with six other veterans, gathered funds and supplies and flew to the Dominican Republic where they rented a truck and headed to Haiti, according to The organization used to be made up of only military and former military volunteers but has expanded to invite non-veterans to support their volunteer efforts.

Team Rubicon has response teams in regions throughout the United States and will go anywhere they are needed. Team Rubicon members respond to a variety of events, some are disasters and some are proactive measures to prevent disasters. Each time the teams go out they are divided into small groups, about six people including the group leader.

In Port Charlotte, Florida, Leum’s team had three main jobs: using chainsaws to help open up blocked areas; removing damaged ceiling tiles, flooring and other debris to prepare for construction companies; tarping to make certain roofs/windows were waterproof and protected. Leum was assigned to tarping.

He said that it was difficult at times to focus on the work at hand when surrounded by so much destruction, but Team Rubicon kept a strict organizational pattern.

“Once you get the address [you are assigned] you’ll find every situation is going to be a little different,” Leum said.

The Team Rubicon members assess a situation to find the best approach to get the work done. This builds a strong camaraderie among team members.

“You are with people you have never met before,” Leum said. “But [over the years] I have made lifelong friends that I still talk to.”

He said what he has learned from responding to so many disasters with Team Rubicon, including the recent trip to Ukraine, was how appreciative people are to see the teams.

“[A lot of times] they just lost everything, yet they were crying more with tears of joy when they see us,” he said.

Leum also witnessed neighbors supporting neighbors in Florida.

“For me it’s great to see that people are concerned and want good things to happen for [their neighbors],” he said.