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Sydney man back from assisting victims of Hurricane Florence

Beth Hazelhurst looks on as husband Gerald shows her photographs he took while recently volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross in North Carolina. Hazelhurst was part of the humanitarian organization’s assistance efforts after the Carolinas were inundated by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
Beth Hazelhurst looks on as husband Gerald shows her photographs he took while recently volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross in North Carolina. Hazelhurst was part of the humanitarian organization’s assistance efforts after the Carolinas were inundated by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. - David Jala

SYDNEY, N.S. — Gerald Hazelhurst is not a disaster junkie, but he’s convinced that he’s becoming addicted to helping people in need.

The 67-year-old Sydney man recently returned from North Carolina where he had spent the better part of three weeks working with the Canadian Red Cross’ disaster relief operation in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, a major storm that resulted in catastrophic flooding across the Carolinas.

Gerald Hazelhurst
Gerald Hazelhurst

It wasn’t the first time that Hazelhurst left home to lend a hand with the international humanitarian organization. Earlier this year he was dispatched to New Brunswick after the Saint John River overflowed its banks, causing some of the worst flooding in that area in recent memory. And, two years earlier, he was part of the Red Cross’ Cape Breton contingent that offered assistance to the estimated 88,000 people displaced by the wild fires in Fort McMurray, Alta. He was also present when residents of a south end Sydney neighbourhood were devastated by the Thanksgiving Day flooding of 2016.

“I don’t know why I do it — I just love to help people,” said Hazelhurst, a retired pipefitter who has been volunteering with aid organizations such as the Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance for years.

“I suppose this is what it’s like to have an addiction — sometimes it’s difficult, we see a lot of heartbreak and people in desperate situations, but I find it very gratifying to be part of the team that is there helping people and I’m proud to be a part of the Red Cross.”

As with any major disaster, those offering assistance in the aftermath of the Carolinas flooding were tasked with an incredibly wide variety of jobs. Hazelhurst’s assignment was to visit shelters across the state of North Carolina and check on what supplies and resources those centres, usually converted school gymnasiums, needed.

“I guess I was lucky because it was a great job that had me driving all over the state — me and my partner would usually do up to 300 miles a day,” he said.

“But I think it goes beyond that — I spent a lot of the time talking with people and finding out how they were doing, sometimes they just needed to tell their story.”

Related:

• 'Big and vicious': Hurricane Florence closes in on Carolinas

• 4 dead as Hurricane Florence drenches the Carolinas

And, the stories that Hazelhurst heard were heartbreaking.

“There was so much poverty, we dealt with a lot of poor people and many of them lost all they had — ironically, the people that fared the best were the homeless because they had a warm, safe shelter with three meals a day and for them that was great,” he recalled, adding that he was fortunate to have been placed in a Raleigh hotel whereas most aid workers slept in the shelters.

“But I think the thing that impacted me the most was the reaction of the people when we showed up with the Red Cross — they’d say: ‘thank you for coming all the way from Canada to help us’, so that meant a lot to us, they were very grateful.”

All told, Hazelhurst spent about two and a half weeks in North Carolina. And, while he would have liked to stay longer, he knew he was getting close to burning out.

“The Red Cross takes care of its volunteers — there’s a lot of emotion with this and it takes a toll, so they like to rotate new people in when it gets close to the three-week mark,” he said.

His wife Beth was glad to have him home.

“I’m very proud of what he does, but I worry about him when he’s away — there’s lot of times he can’t be reached, so I am really happy that he’s home now,” she said, adding that he kept her up for hours the night he arrived home as he recounted story after story about his time in North Carolina.

Hazelhurst wasn’t the only volunteer from Cape Breton who made the trip south in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. The Red Cross’ Amy Campbell-Landry, another veteran of the 2016 Fort McMurray campaign, also traveled to the Carolinas.

david.jala@cbpost.com

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