United's Humanitarian Relief Flight to the Bahamas - United Hub

United's humanitarian relief flight to the Bahamas

By Marie Gray, September 19, 2019

As United's humanitarian Flight 2814 from IAH to the Bahamas departed for the islands on September 17, a little over two weeks after Hurricane Dorian struck the islands with the fury of a record-breaking Category 5 storm, the reality was stark. More than 1,300 people are still missing. Rebuilding in the Bahamas will take years. And the need for help remains urgent, with thousands of evacuees overflowing shelters and infrastructure on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands largely destroyed.

United is doing its part. As of September 18, we have raised more than $560,000 together with our four relief partners – Americares, Airlink, Global Giving and the American Red Cross -- to support victims of the storm through a Crowdrise funding campaign and MileagePlus award miles for members who donate $50 or more. And the resounding theme among the nearly 100 aid workers on the flight, which United and its partner Airlink helped coordinate, is that we are all, customers and employees included, part of the same response team.

The flight's passengers came from four organizations: Team Rubicon (U.S.), Team Rubicon Canada, Waves for Water and Mercy Corps. They are moms, grandfathers, ex-soldiers, sailors and infantry, as well as amazing civilians each wanting to play a part in giving these victims hope and a shot at rebuilding their lives.

Nina Augustine, a former Air Force security forces specialist who spent two years in Uganda, is a member of Waves For Water's Veteran Division, The Clean Water Corps. "We deliver water filtration systems and training to people who need access to clean water. I think it's pretty awesome what United is doing. Disaster response is a team effort. Every individual and organization brings a unique skill and resource to help people who have lost everything. But, if we can't get there, none of those skills and resources matter. United taking a lead in supporting moving relief workers to the disaster area is a critical component."

South Florida retired Army veteran Jed Marceau who volunteers with Team Rubicon said, "If you go down and you clear 50 feet of road, you can say you've accomplished something. You do the best you can to help people who need it the most. It makes you feel like you've achieved something." Marceau is signed up for a two-week stint and planning to make it a double.

Jonathen Davis served in the U.S. Navy for seven years as an expeditionary combat cameraman and has been with Team Rubicon longer than that at this point. "The partnership between United, Airlink, and Team Rubicon allows these 80 volunteers to provide disaster relief to communities in the Bahamas that have experienced devastating loss," he said. "Other than veterans, we also bring in first responders and other amazing civilians. We all come together to serve survivors who are looking for help and bring them steps closer to full recovery.

Team Rubicon's core capabilities include mucking out homes, tree branch clearing, heavy equipment operation, movement of piles of debris, and even medical care provided by EMTs with special verification granted by the World Health Organization to care for those they meet along the way.

"It's great that United is providing seats to this group," Davis said. "United and Airlink are team members of Team Rubicon. Without you all, we'd have to find another way to get ourselves there."

Angela Owen, senior program officer at Mercy Corps, says that her organization, too, could not be more thankful for the generous support it's receiving from United and its customers. "This helps incredibly with the response. Deploying staff quickly and easily to the Bahamas has been instrumental in our ability to distribute essentials like clean water, food and solar lanterns. Right now we are focusing our relief efforts on Grand Bahama island, one of the two hardest-hit islands where a large number of people who need assistance are located."

Retired Alaska flight paramedic Teresa Gray discussed the storm on the return flight from Nassau on Tuesday after finishing up a 10-day stint that began just a few days after Dorian hit. Gray founded Mobile Medics International three years ago to bridge what she identified as a unique gap in humanitarian response. "Our mission is to fill the gap from zero medical care [after a natural disaster] to functioning medical service."

As team leader, Gray notifies her volunteer roster of 150 physicians, nurses, and EMTs with plans for an activation, and they let her know if they want to take part. "We specialize in small teams," she said. "When you get into big teams, you're not mobile anymore. The more people you need, the more resources you need. We're never more than eight or nine on a mission, max. We went to Mozambique after the Category 4-equivalent Typhoon Kenneth, and a team of six people saw about 250 people a day."

Dorian, she said, was mind boggling.

"I've never seen anything like it. So much destruction and devastation. Hundreds and hundreds were washed out to sea. Abaco housed 40,000 people before. Now there are 300 to 400. The Haitians went to the smaller islands and Bahamians went to Nassau. All the shelters are overflowing."

The partnerships, the collaborations, the teaming and the sharing are all central features of disaster response, Gray said. "Your $5 donation matters. I can buy 1,000 doses of amoxicillin for $32. We also get a bit of intel about what else they need." Gray then goes back to World Central Kitchen's local feeding operation and shares information with other relief groups about what's lacking, where they need food and water, and where they need tents.

"There are no secrets in humanitarian medicine," she said. "You share what you get."

By the numbers so far:

  • $560,000+ raised through Crowdrise
  • 200,000 meals on Flight 2814 provided by Rise Against Hunger (RAH), including meals packed by United employees
  • 4,460 hygiene kits and sanitation supplies delivered for Heart to Heart International
  • Team Rubicon's 2 pallets on board of day packs, water, tents, filtration systems
  • 197 relief volunteers transported (93 on the charter, 104 provided by United through Airlink)
  • One humanitarian charter (Boeing 777-200)
  • 30,000 lbs. of relief supplies transported

Want to help? You can join us in our disaster relief efforts by donating to our Crowdrise fundraising campaign here.

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