An Akron man rode out Hurricane Maria in a radio shack and was rescued from St. John Island thanks to country singer Kenny Chesney, but he wants you to remember the stories of those still suffering in the Caribbean.
Communication is key during disasters. George Riedel knows that well. The retired consultant is also a ham radio operator. After Hurricane Irma, he volunteered his services to the island of St. John.
“We were totally isolated. There was no power. All the critical infrastructure was gone,” he said.
With cell phone towers and broadband wiped out, ham radios become a crucial and sometimes the only means of communications. Riedel relayed health and welfare traffic between nearby islands.
“The big thing that we did was relay from Myra Keating hospital, a traffic count of all the injured people that were brought to Myra Keating for transport,” he explained.
He planned to volunteer for one week, but 12 days after Hurricane Irma, Maria showed up. The Category 5 hurricane brought another round of devastation to St. John.
Riedel rode out Maria in a radio shack. He survived and continued to volunteer. Three weeks had passed and he really needed to get home to Akron, but couldn’t. Boats and planes off the island were scarce.
That’s when country music superstar and resident of St. John Kenny Chesney came to the rescue.
Chesney donated transportation for aid workers. Riedel took a 35-foot sport fishing boat from St. John to the island of St. Thomas. Then, a limousine drove him to the St. Thomas airport. He flew on a commercial jet to Florida -- all on Chesney’s dime.
He never met Chesney face-to-face, but is thankful nonetheless.
“He’s just a wonderful person. He deserves all the accolades that he can get for what he has done,” Riedel said.
Riedel, home safe in Akron, says he felt compelled to volunteer and wishes he could do more to help the people still struggling through daily life.
“I just pray. What else can I do? What else can I do?”