Dozens of private planes began ferrying water, food and hygiene items to the Hurricane Dorian ravaged Bahamas.
The airlift of humanitarian aid from Ocala to the Bahamas began in earnest on Thursday as dozens of planes took off from the Ocala International Airport loaded with relief supplies.
Water, food and personal hygiene items were the first to start going. They are the most needed in the immediate aftermath of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Dorian. The islands of the Bahamas were lashed by the slow-moving storm while it was a Category 5 packing 185 mph sustained winds.
"We started loading planes this morning and will be out there for at least the next seven days," said Steve Ewing, the president of Ocala-based Crossroads Alliance & Ministries.
The organization helps collect and load tons of supplies aboard volunteer, private aircraft. Everything from small planes to larger multi-passenger planes showed up to start ferrying supplies to Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
John Chlusky of Delray Beach flew in to take a load of water in his four-seat Cessna.
"I've been visiting the Bahamas for 15 years. It's a beautiful country and beautiful people. I wanted to do something other than just donate money," Chlusky said.
He last visited the islands a month ago.
"I was in Green Turtle Cay. From what I hear, everything on Green Turtle is now inhabitable," he said, noting that Green Turtle Cay is part of the Abaco Islands.
He hoped to touch down in Nassau later on Thursday.
Dozens more planes were expected at the airport. Crossroads and dozens of volunteers are staging at Sheltair Aviation the airport's services provider.
Don Poulin was at lunch with three of his friends when they got an email looking for volunteers to load planes. They all decided to head to the airport and pitch in.
"It's like a drop in the bucket, but if everybody puts in a drop, it can really make a difference," he said.
Ewing said they will continue to take donations directly at the Crossroads Alliance warehouse at 195 SW 33rd Ave., Ocala.
"Right now they need the basics. Anything that you take for granted like water, toilet paper, soap, a toothbrush, they need it," he said.
Crossroads Alliance is just one of many organizations in Marion County and around the country that are collecting items and money for the hurricane relief efforts.
Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or firstname.lastname@example.org