ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) – Local Coast Guard members who brought more than 1,000 people to safety from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria shared their experiences from Air Station Elizabeth City on Thursday.
Lt. Weston Dodson called the flooding from Harvey the worst he’d ever seen. It brought his crew away from the familiarity of the ocean and the Chesapeake Bay — and into Houston’s challenging urban air space.
“You just got to think on your feet and you have to do what makes the job happen, so a couple of times, we had to land in parking lots, we had to land on interstates, had to land in just folks’ residential yards,” Dodson said.
Local Coast Guard members performed 38 rescues, transported nearly 1,100 people, and delivered more than 1.2 million pounds of supplies to affected communities. More than 100 members deployed from Elizabeth City to Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico during hurricane season.
Lt. Lauren Gillikin, a pilot, was scheduled to come home from another mission when Harvey hit. She helped move personnel, water, parts and supplies into Houston and evacuees to Dallas.
“It was hard to see, but it was a privilege to be able to help them and get them out of harm’s way,” she said.
The Coast Guard helped more than 70 people from military and Department of Defense families in Puerto Rico get set up in an Elizabeth City hotel.
“We had about 54 people, mainly dependents, animals…They had a backpack with them and their pets on a plane,” said Chief Petty Officer Jen Brown.
Rescue swimmer AST2 Evan Thigpen had to work like a firefighter during rescue efforts in Houston, using chainsaws and axes to free people.
“This was a little bit different. There’s a lot of breaching houses, breaching out of houses, just trying to get people out…It’s kind of the reason why I joined and wanted to do this job, It’s very rewarding, you know, we don’t wish it upon anybody, but I’m glad I could just be there to help out,” he said.
They completed more than 120 missions.