Inspiring Okeechobee Hard times bring out the best in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — When disaster strikes, or even threatens, the people of Okeechobee come together to take care of their own. Last week, we thought a hurricane was headed straight toward our town, and all over Facebook were offers from total strangers to help put up shutters or plywood. These people were not asking for money. They just wanted to be sure their neighbors were safe.

Wade Hunt, who regularly builds ramps for veterans, was out with some of his men putting up shutters for anyone who needed help, no questions asked. Commissioner Bryant Culpepper called them angels in disguise.

Donny Arnold, a local firefighter was concerned enough about a homeless man that he started a thread on social media and got people involved in making sure the man had a safe place to stay throughout the storm. Out on the Prairie, they had an entire list of volunteers willing to help anyone who needed assistance preparing before the storm.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Leah Shulman
Cowboys pitching in to get livestock safely to high ground as the strom approached.

Several pets were lost before the storm and many went out to help search for them, knowing how worried their owners were. Those who had been through storms in the past were quick to offer advice and words of comfort to the newbies who were fearful.

Genna Lute, who lives in Orlando but grew up here, asked for a volunteer to put up her mom’s shutters and received dozens of offers.

Donna Robertson, whose yard was flooded before the storm, posted about her dilemma and immediately had offers of help to solve the problem before the storm.

Mayor Dowling Watford was seen all over town throughout the entire four-day ordeal. He was busy making sure everyone and everything was all right. The city police department worked double shifts. The city fire department worked extra shifts. The sheriff’s office and county fire department worked non-stop to keep us all safe.

We had people manning the Emergency Operations Center, volunteers at the shelters, people working over-time at the hospital, nursing home, jail and prison and probably other places I don’t know about. Deputies and police officers checked on the homes of those who evacuated to be sure no one took advantage of their situation.

The minute the storm passed by, our first thought as a community was, “How can we help the Bahamas?” And we immediately began creating drop-off points for donations. This week, our inspiring Okeechobee story is all about Okeechobee. We, as a community, should be an inspiration to other communities. We are like siblings. We might fight amongst ourselves occasionally, but “nobody better mess with my brother.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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