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'As the sun came up, we started rolling': US military veteran group conducting Florida rescue operations

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Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Floodwaters continue to threaten survivors of Hurricane Ian. Fortunately, government agencies are not alone in the rescue efforts. A group of U.S. military veterans known as Project Dynamo has been hard at work off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida, rescuing people stranded on Sanibel Island.

Bryan Stern, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, is co-founder of the search-and-rescue team. He told the AP, "As soon as the sun came up, we started rolling."

With a small flotilla under its command, Project Dynamo — named after the British evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during the Second World War — has rescued over 20 people. Many of the rescuees are reportedly elderly residents whose escape from Sanibel Island was thwarted when Ian washed away the causeway to the mainland.

The training division chief for the Sanibel Fire Department, Tim Barrett, lauded the efforts of the group and like-minded bystanders who have leaped into action. "It sort of restores your view of humanity," he said. "You see people chipping in and they aren't getting paid for it."

Barrett noted that among the rescuers were several whose own homes were obliterated. Nevertheless, "They're still helping other people."

Although presently operating domestically in Florida, Project Dynamo has performed rescue operations internationally and claims to have aided over 8,000 people.

The group rescued three Americans who were trapped in Afghanistan after the Biden administration's disastrous withdrawal. Stern said that the people the group brought home to Virginia and California would otherwise have faced "very terrible" fates.

When it came to rescuing Americans from Ukraine in the early days of the Russian invasion, the group took action when others seemed unwilling. James Judge, a spokesman for the group, told Fox News that "when the Biden administration said they weren't going to do it, it was kind of like, 'Okay, here we go.'"

WFTS reported in June that Project Dynamo rescued nearly 500 people from Mariupol, Ukraine.

In it together

There are other groups buttressing official efforts. Matt Mengel and his friends took to Sanibel Island to help. "We had gasoline. We had jet skis. We had water. We had food and snacks," Mengel told the AP. "And our mission was just to go find them, dead or alive."

There are reportedly at least 68 dead in Florida as a result of Hurricane Ian.

Mengel, whose own home was destroyed, began rescue operations with his compatriots on Friday after first investigating the well-being of a friend the group hadn't heard from. Upon finding that friend safe, they proceeded to look for others they could help and ferry back to the mainland.

In their efforts, Mengel's team aided an elderly couple in waving down a Coast Guard helicopter, reinforced in their effort by Project Dynamo. Mengel indicated his team has made seven rescues so far.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) noted on Sunday that the mobilization of search-and-rescue teams was the largest since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Extra to the eight Urban Search and Rescue Teams that have been performing search and rescue since last week, nearly 5,000 National Guard troops were also activated on Thursday.

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