A Virginia Beach veteran whose home was damaged in Hurricane Matthew can rest easier at night, thanks to the help of fellow veterans.
Team Rubicon, a disaster relief non-profit made up of military veteran volunteers, came to Virginia Beach Sunday, Oct. 16 after the city recognized its citizens needed help as soon as possible. People like Army National Guard veteran Wade Purkiss, his wife and three children.
“My wife stepped out of bed to use the bathroom at around 3 or 3:30 in the morning and screamed,” said Purkiss, recalling the night of Oct. 8, when a foot of flood water entered his home. “This area floods because of the draining, but in 21 years, we haven’t had [water] come up to the house.”
On Monday Oct. 24, white trucks and piles of debris could be found on a curb outside Purkiss’ home. Metal scraping against concrete, hammers hitting hard, conversation and laughter could be heard in the Windsor Forest cul-de-sac. Team Rubicon was preparing the home for reconstruction.
“We’re here to provide immediate relief,” said Team Rubicon Strike Team Leader and Army veteran Robert Hein. “We’re not renovators … we’re removing carpeting, flooring, the base moldings that are along the floor, and then we take the wall wherever we need to to hit dry insulation. We’re trying to prevent mold and any other further damage from water infiltration.”
Without Team Rubicon’s help, Purkiss said it would take him a month to do the work they did in a day. So far, the volunteers have helped gut 25 homes in Virginia Beach, with eight more on its list for this week, according to Team Rubicon Region Three’s Public Information Officer Cheryl Mann.
A typical day for Operation Wolfsnare, Team Rubicon’s operation in Virginia Beach, begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., getting one to three houses done, according to Hein. He said the work ranges from tasks like taking electrical outlet plates off the wall to removing sinks, cabinets and heavy furniture.
Each team has about four to six members, consisting of locals and travelers. Hein is from New Jersey and drove more than six hours to get here. He said Hurricane Sandy’s impact on his state in 2012 is what motivated him to help in Virginia Beach.
Hein recalled seeing some Virginia Beach residents who didn’t know how to respond to the flood damage.
“This flood was so unexpected, and they were so unprepared for it, it sort of put them in a state of shock,” said Hein. “There was one house I went to where they literally had done nothing. As if the flood happened yesterday and they were just sort of living in it. It’s heartbreaking.”
Purkiss said he didn’t even reach out to Team Rubicon. Instead, Army veteran and Wounded Warrior Outreach Coordinator Danitza James called him, waiting at his driveway to set him up with help last week after his neighbor referred them.
“Something we see happen a lot is that neighbors are the ones who come to us to help others who are in more need than they are,” said James. “We came to see [Purkiss’ neighbor] and she said ‘no, our garage just needs a lot of help … go see Wade.'”
Purkiss said he has flood insurance, but he is worried his insurance company won’t believe his damage claims. The water receded by 11 a.m. the next day, when his phone’s battery had no power and after the water damaged most of his furniture, including the computer to send his agent files and retirement papers he was getting ready to archive.
The stench the flooding brought to the neighborhood caused his family to temporarily relocate to a hotel down the street. He said the city paid for a week of their stay. Purkiss also said the next step is to rebuild, after he knows how much his insurance will cover, and how much he needs to spend out of pocket.
Calvary Baptist Church, 4832 Haygood Rd., is housing and feeding Team Rubicon’s Operation Wolfsnare until they leave. Hein said that day could be Friday, Oct. 28.
“Most of us have already dedicated the majority of our lives to serving, and it sounds hokey if you haven’t actually been there and done it,” said Hein. “But once you’re in a serving mindset, and you get out [of the military], you want to keep serving.”