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Hurricane Helpers


A Sherwood resident helps oversee efforts by 380 ambulances sent to help out victims of Hurricane Sandy

by: COURTESY OF MIKE VERKEST - Members of the New York Fire Department respond to incidents related to Hurricane Sandy shortly before the superstorm hit Rockaway Beach in October.When Hurricane Sandy began to whip the Eastern seaboard — a storm that would ultimately take the lives of more than 250 people before it ended — American Medical Response was among the agencies sent to help out.

One of those who answered the call was AMR employee and Sherwood resident Mike Verkest, who went out to help oversee operations of the 380 ambulances from AMR and other companies that were summoned to New York and New Jersey to aid those affected by the Category 2 hurricane.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Verkest, a 15-year veteran of AMR and a training officer for the company who got the call to help out on Oct. 26. “Even being home for two weeks, it’s taken time to decompressed.”by: COURTESY OF MIKE VERKEST - Mike Verkest of AMR amublance company was part of a disaster response team sent to New York and New Jersey to help evacuate victims of Hurricane Sandy.

As a member of the disaster response team for AMR, the 40-year-old Verkest was sent to Joint Base Dix-Lake Hurst-McGuire in New Jersey to serve as an emergency medical services section chief and deputy incident commander.

Verkest, who also is a licensed paramedic, was there for 24 days, accompanied by Ben Sorenson, the chief operations supervisor for AMR in Clackamas County.

Even as the pair was arriving in New Jersey, Verkest said he knew it was sounding like it would be a major storm.

“I think… most people heeded the warning to get out,” he said.

While New York and New Jersey fire departments handled the disaster calls related to the storm, “Our primary mission was really to go in and augment what we could,” said Verkest.

Although Verkest didn’t go on any specific rescue missions, he coordinated numerous efforts to help those in need.

“For some of the missions, we evacuated hospital and nursing homes,” he said. “We did lots of evacuations.”

Those included Bellevue and the New York University School of Medicine, where flooding was so severe that generators were knocked out.

“The scope of the thing was so huge,” he said. “The (amount of) people who needed assistance was mind-boggling. “It was really surreal because we were right in the middle of it.”

He and the other response team members were housed in 25-person tents complete with heaters and cots.

by: COURTESY OF MIKE VERKEST - A smashed Porshe in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., sits on the foundation of a home after being flung through a garage during Hurricane Sandy in October.“It was freezing cold,” he recalled. “At night, it would definitely dip down into the 20s.”

Not only did the wind and rain cause problems but a week after the beginning of the hurricane, a Nor’easter hit as well, dumping at least five inches of snow in Brooklyn alone.

Verkest said another problem arose when power company employees went to restore power because they had to inspect each one to ensure it wouldn’t catch fire once the power came back on. Unfortunately, an entire block went up in flames in Rockaway’s Breezy Point.

Teams that Verkest helped supervise also staffed areas where food and medical services were distributed at churches, schools and other locations.

Verkest said he and others were often isolated from the initial destruction; however, when they went out to survey the damage at Rockaway Beach, he saw for himself the massive devastation the storm caused.

“Just as far as you could look, these homes were destroyed,” he said. “Smoke detectors were going off.”

Ultimately, he found that many residents just needed someone to talk to.

by: COURTESY OF MIKE VERKEST - A sinkhole opened in Rockaway Beach after Hurricane Sandy hit the community with full force.“People were grateful to see us and thank us,” said Verkest, noting that this included everyone from restaurant workers to physicians.

A Sherwood resident since 2004, Verkest and his wife are the parents of three children, ages 10, 14 and 18.

“People are still asking me about it today,” Verkest said of Hurricane Sandy. “It was an honor to go out there and serve those people.”