An elderly woman approaches our group while we are loading the truck. Americans are never shy to show their interest when something is going on, and in tough times like these, they can spot when people have come to help out. When she learns that our team members have come all the way down here from Boston and even far away Vienna, her eyes tear up and she gives every single member of our group a long hug. Before parting with us she calls us "angels" - a word that should stick and that we would get to hear repeatedly throughout our journey.
Angels on tour
After a long day of collecting food and other supplies, incidents like these give us new strength in times of crisis. While Tampa, Florida, where we are collecting donations, was spared by disaster, the nearby states North- and South Caroline were hit hard. Thousands had to flee their home, forced to leave behind their beloved pets. Many of them have been taken in by shelters - but they are running out of food and supplies with all the extra animals to take care of.
We can witness first hand in one of the most powerful countries in the world that our seemingly so advanced civilisation can be put into ruins by nature within hours. What makes us humans significant as a species are not our technological or economical accomplishments but the fact that we are willing to reach out a helping hand to those in need when disaster strikes
Samantha Haider, FOUR PAWS Disaster Relief Unit Coordinator
That's why we are standing here in front of the Earth Wise Petstore, where we are collecting donations including 86 bags of dog food, 40 bags of cat food, 40 bags of cat litter, 18 crates and carriers of various sizes as well as numerous toys, treats and food bowls. Our mission is supported by the local organisation Beds for all Paws and the local community. "That is one huge truck", another passerby comments with a thick southern accent, only to add "I can't believe you guys managed to fill it all up". And indeed, at the end of the day the truck is packed with donations that locals have been dropping of or that were provided by employees of the store.
On the road
We start our 15 hour drive to South Carolina, passing by flooded streets and bridges. Only one of the two lanes is still open as sandbags and other temporary walls are blocking parts of the road, trying to hold back the floods. We need to take several breaks as driving under these conditions is exhausting and dangerous. Everywhere we stop, we get approached by people asking if they can help out. While I am finishing my coffee in front of a supermarket, a man asks me to hold on for a couple more minutes. He disappears inside the huge store, only to return with two bags filled up with supplies that he hands over to us. "I just took in two homeless dogs but I'm sure where you guys are going, there are many more with empty stomachs to fill", he says before he waves us good bye.
Finally we arrive at the Grand Strand Humane Society shelter in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They currently have 50 dogs and 80 cats in their shelter and 40 dogs and 100 cats in foster care. With our donations of food, cat litter, and cleaning supplies, we will be able to support not only their shelter, but others in the area that are in need as well.
While we don't have dramatic pictures of us pulling out animals from the debris this time, we can tell from the overwhelming reaction we received from the local population how important our mission in the US was. Some of them have lost their homes and everything they owned and under tears had to leave their most beloved companions behind. The fact that we were there to support them means the world to them. We hope they will be reunited and able to return home soon.