How Hurricane Irma brought out the best in Gulfport

Focusing on the good that happened before, during and after the storm.

click to enlarge And, of course, O'Maddy's was open for business right after the storm. Hell, it's possible they never even closed. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
And, of course, O'Maddy's was open for business right after the storm. Hell, it's possible they never even closed.

Social media can be a vile place — moreso in smaller towns — but this past weekend, the Gulfport Facebook groups and pages overflowed with positive messages. Irma, it seems, brought out the best in people — at least in my small town. Not only was social media awash with good things, it carried over into real life. The city handed out more sand than probably has ever existed in Gulfport and set up a call center. The mayor, who had a tree fall on his car, made a point of going through town the morning after landfall to see what people needed (he also spent a good deal of time helping people board up windows). We had extra police everywhere (and no reports of looting homes, only a pried open door at Dollar General and smashed glass and stolen cigarettes at Sunoco). The marina had no damage to any of its boats — in part thanks to the Boca Ciega Yacht Club making sure every boat on the hard had the ability to tie down. Councilwoman Yolanda Roman opened up her home for anyone to charge their phones. Instead of fighting over ice, one of my neighbors posted that he had four extra bags. Another one of my neighbors has a generator and invited us in for coffee. 

Here at CL, I get made fun of a lot because I tend to be a cheerleader for Gulfport — all the antics and all the weirdness and yes, all the good. Below's a sampling of why.

After losing power at 5 p.m. Sunday, we (six) in our hood completed home preps, then I took a count (door to door) to see who was staying for Irma. We helped board up some other neighbors' windows and hunkered down. Monday morning, we met, shared coffees and began cleanups at our own homes — and those of disabled a street over.  Gulfportians are the Greatest! Only wish we had power!  #gulfportsurvivors —Robbie Cruse-Curnow

Everyone chipped in where they could. Neighbors were loaning tools, holding a board, and staying in touch throughout the storm to check on each other. Kimberly Chaffin

Yolanda Roman (Ward Three councilperson) for having ice and battery charging stations. Deb Birchler 

About Backfin Blue:

Add Harold and his family from Backfin Blue. He was taking down his boards of his restaurant when someone stopped and asked him if he was open because they had no food and were hungry. He and his family proceeded to feed everyone who came through the door, including us, until the food was gone. He even gave people ice to take home with them. I cannot say enough positive things about my experience last night at Backfin. It even made coming home to a dark warm house bearable.Sam Holte

Harold and his kids were amazing, working hard with big smiles and friendly.... people like them are what Gulfport is all about!!! Peter Mazurkiewicz

We had the same wonderful experience at this restaurant yesterday and the food was delicious! He also sent us home with cold drinks. We are thankful to them and we will be back when things are back to normal. MG Stewart 

About Wolfgang Deininger:

Wolfgang Deininger, a board member for Gulfport Neighbors, spent days before the storm helping people prep their homes. After the storm, he kept evacuees updated on the status of their homes and posted his cell on Facebook with a plea for people to text him if they needed help. 

Wolfgang was wonderful in keeping those of us that choose to leave [informed]. Without him and Yolanda Roman we would have been lost on our little piece of paradise. Karen Taylor

Just want to thank Leigh Hanson, Michael Hanson, Wolfgang Deininger, and Karen for checking on people. A big thank you to Yolanda Roman for allowing people to use your home as a charging station as well as providing ice and food to those in need. Gulfport is an awesome town. —Cathy Tyson Marsh

Want to say thank you so much to Wolfgang and Karen for their help with the downed tree! You guys rock!! —Melanie King-Klaff

R.W. Kittle helping neighbors in Marina District and holding down the fort while we left. Yolanda for offering power and ice. Wolfgang for always helping those in need. The city employees! Too many people to thank. Such a great community. Deborah Thomas Adkins

A huge hand to the folks who ran the storm shelter at Boca Ciega High School. And another to the seemingly tireless guys at [Gulfport] public works. If you see them, popsicles or a cold drink are always appreciated. Karen Hantman

Everyone chipped in where they could. Neighbors were loaning tools, holding a board, and staying in touch throughout the storm to check on each other. Kimberly Chaffin

J.P. [Brewer] from Saltys is sharing their generator with Pia's so we can still run our walk-in cooler. —Pia Goff

We're only part-time Gulfportians until April when we become full-time but... I am amazed and speechless at how anyone needing help feels they can reach out to this community...and someone undoubtedly reaches back with a hand or an answer. Whether they're looking for a fridge to replace the one that just passed or help with moving that chest of drawers. The offers of strangers to board up houses or to take in strangers during the storm. The kindness of the Gulfport community is rare and overwhelmingly beautiful. Melanie Wallerick-Roberts

Contact Cathy Salustri.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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