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An 18-wheeler used for emergency response.
Information icon North Mississippi Task Force responds to Hurricane Irma. Photo by USFWS.

Knocking on doors, saving lives

Big Pine Key, Florida – Hurricane Irma killed eight people in the Florida Keys. Sami Gray, newly arrived and in charge, did her part to make sure there wouldn’t be a 9th body found, not on her watch.

Gray, the incident commander for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service response to the hurricane asked law-enforcement officers to undertake another round of “wellness checks” Thursday afternoon in and around the National Key Deer Refuge. Big Pine and nearby Cudjoe Key bore the brunt of Irma’s 180 mph wrath.

Members of the friend’s group who provide invaluable assistance to the refuge – and who rode out the hurricane at home – were given top billing by Gray.

“Let’s go there and double check on them,” she said. “This is important.”

J.D. Bricken, Brian Roberts and Brett Wehrle, refuge managers in North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana, respectively, maneuvered around downed trees and power lines to begin their search.

Nobody who evacuated Big Pine, and most of the other Keys, has been allowed to return to the disaster zone. It’s up to the army of local, state and federal responders swarming the Keys to locate the residents who rode out Irma’s 180 mph winds and surging waters.

Nancy Chatelaine, who runs the nature center’s gift shop off U.S. 1, was taking a nap when the Service officers arrived at her two-story, yellow paneled home with wraparound porches on each floor. Downed trees obscured her house from the road on the Key’s eastern end. She had water and supplies – the Winn-Dixie reopened Thursday.

“We’re fine. We’re safe,” said Chatelaine as her dogs barked. “Somebody came by yesterday too. I’m impressed. You guys are Fish and Wildlife? Awesome. I guess it pays to be a volunteer.”

The officers checked another home, but it was empty. Gray needn’t worry about another catastrophe on her watch. Not, at least, on Thursday.


Dan Chapman, Public Affairs Specialist, (404) 679-4028

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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