“Chapapote” is the Spanish word for roof tar, the dark, oily, and pungent substance that is used to coat roofs to prevent leaks. For 25 members of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), who repaired 55 homes in Port Charlotte over six days, Chapapote was an essential part of their supplies. So, it made sense that after they returned to Miami, and gathered one last time before being released from their humanitarian mission deployment, they stacked their hands in the middle of a tight circle and shouted in unison, “Chapapote!”
“Let me tell you, there is a lot of need for help up there, lots of damage from wind and water,” said Lieutenant Jorge M. Audino, during a press conference on Wednesday morning, October 12, 2022, moments after the team’s caravan returned from Port Charlotte. “That community is amazing, even though many of them lost everything, they have not lost hope,” he said.
Port Charlotte, an unincorporated coastal community of about 65,000 residents, sustained considerable damage from Hurricane Ian. The community is a 45-minute drive north from Ft. Myers, which sustained the worst damage in the region. In Florida, at least 119 people died in Hurricane Ian. The property damage, including other states, is estimated to be at least $55 billion.
The RDF team’s humanitarian mission was to repair the homes of first responders in Port Charlotte. Members of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office have been working non-stop since the deadly hurricane tore through the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. The CCSO deputies have been so busy maintaining public safety services and responding to hundreds of calls for hurricane-related issues, that they have not had time to give any attention to their own property. The RDF officers were called on to make temporary repairs to their homes. The officers were supplied with plywood, tarp, hammers, nails, roof tar, and other items, and after their first full day in the Port Charlotte, they made repairs to 11 homes. Among the equipment and supplies the officers brought with them on the trip from Miami to the Gulf Coast are a generator, a drone, a lighting system, two all-terrain vehicles, a front-end loader, potable water, and landscaping tools.
Early in the deployment the officers were approached by an elderly man who observed them working on the roof of a CCSO deputy’s home. The man asked the officers if they could help him, because he was unable to climb up on his own roof and fix a leak. The officers did not hesitate, walked over to his house and patched up the hole. They also gave the man and his wife water and food.
On another occasion, the RDF officers removed a large tree that fell on a home of a woman who is the mother of a CCSO deputy. The team also removed lots of debris from around the house, essentially returning the home to its pre-hurricane appearance. When the deputy’s mother returned to her house, she was overcome with emotion and cried tears of joy.
“That was humbling,” said Lieutenant Audino. “It truly feels great to help out, it was a very rewarding experience.”
In addition to the 55 homes they repaired, the RDF officers visited 30 more homes to distribute food and water, and even candy to children. The officers handed out 1,000 Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs), 230 cases of water, 80 cases of sports drinks, and 90 tarps. The officers climbed roofs, cut toppled trees, cleared debris, and uprighted structures that were blown down by the force of Ian. There was only one injury, in which an officer stepped on a nail. The officer was given a tetanus shot.
The Miami-Dade Police Department has a long history of assisting other agencies after natural disasters. After Hurricane Michael tore a path of destruction through the Florida panhandle in October 2018, 27 MDPD officers traveled 600 miles to Bay County, through the sponsorship of the Police Officer Assistance Trust (POAT), to patch up the homes of local first responders. Over six days, those officers worked on 37 homes.
More help is on the way to Port Charlotte, as the initial team of RDF officers were relieved by a second team of 25, that set off for the three-hour drive about an hour after the first team returned to Miami. Like the first team, they will sleep under tents, and will have some basic amenities such as showers and laundry service. But unlike the first team, the second contingent will likely be called on to perform other duties beyond their humanitarian work. The calls for service have doubled, to the point that the CCSO will likely delegate calls to the RDF officers.
There were also 27 POAT sponsored MDPD officers in Lee County who conducted a similar humanitarian mission for first responders. Many of those MDPD officers have experience in such situations, as they were part of the contingent that assisted in Bay County after Hurricane Michael, and they also helped residents in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma swept through there in 2017. In Lee County, they performed repairs on the homes of first responders in communities in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
“The community is very thankful, and we’re going to keep coming as long as they need us,” said Director Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III.
Originally published at https://www.miamidade.gov/global/news-item.page?Mduid_news=news1665723901550607