In January 2015, Alaska State Trooper dispatcher Steve Hayburn woke up to his landlord pounding on his door. His home in Ketchikan had flooded. When he got up, he saw that the plugged-in space heater he was using was just inches above the surface.
“I am extremely lucky to be alive,” Hayburn said. “I lost everything, including a nice guitar that had traveled the entire (country) with me.”
The community of Ketchikan came together and helped him out, including helping him get a new guitar.
So when Hayburn saw the recent effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he decided to do something. He wanted to find a small town like Ketchikan to help, and settled on Rockport, Texas, where Harvey first made landfall. It was one of the communities hit hardest by the storm.
“I don’t know a soul down there,” he said.
That’s about to change. Hayburn is organizing a fundraiser at the Ketchikan Fire Department and, soon after, will travel to Rockport. Other Ketchikan first responders, residents, and businesses have gotten involved as well.
Hayburn hopes to raise $20,000, which he’ll use to organize a Thanksgiving dinner for Rockport first responders. He’ll donate the rest of it to the Lamar Volunteer Fire Department (the name of the Rockport fire department) to help with Christmas presents for families affected by the storm. He’ll also stay in Rockport for a week on his own funding, helping to rebuild.
Though Hurricane Harvey hit Texas at the end of August, Texan communities are still feeling its effects. It’s only the second half of October, Hayburn said, that the town lifted its advisory that people should boil water before drinking it. On the Facebook fundraising page, Hayburn said he estimates 35 percent of the town was destroyed and 30 to 40 percent of it will not be rebuilt.
“Boats in the marina lie partially submerged. Rubble is everywhere, littering the streets. Some buildings have been knocked completely flat. Others are missing their roofs,” said an Aug. 28 CNN article about the town.
“We’re still pretty much in cleanup mode,” said Chief Carl Stubbs of the Lamar Volunteer Fire Department on Oct. 31. “People are cleaning their yards and property, still picking up debris.”
At the end of October, Stubbs heard, the cleanup reached one million yards of debris. They need to repair the fire station, he said, and its trucks. There are still three firefighters living at the station.
“Who would come and help us if that happened to Ketchikan, and even Juneau?” Hayburn asked.
Now that he’s gotten the fundraiser going, Hayburn is realizing he’s got a big task ahead of him.
“It’s going to be a huge event,” he said, “Much bigger than I anticipated…. It’s turned into a full-blown affair.”
As of Oct. 27, he had already raised $2,000, including $500 he donated himself.
All the money he raises, he said, will go to the community; he’s paying his own way to Texas and will be bunking at the fire department while he’s volunteering there.
Stubbs said Hayburn has gone about this “the right way.” The ugly side of some fundraisers in which he’s seen Rockport named, he said, is that no one has reached out to Rockport about them, and the town has received no money from them.
“(Hayburn) actually contacted us, talked to us, and walked us through what he was trying to do, versus somebody just trying to go out on their own,” he said. “We can’t wait to meet him and shake his hand.”
The fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 4 is a spaghetti feed from noon to 6 p.m. at the Ketchikan Fire Department, Station 1, at 70 Bawden Street. Ten dollars buy attendees spaghetti with meat sauce, potato rolls, and salad. There will also be a dessert auction.
Those who are interested in helping but are unable to attend the fundraiser can donate — until Nov. 6 — via Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/yap5kjma. You can also donate by calling Hayburn at (907) 821-4506 or by stopping by First Bank in Ketchikan.
• Mary Catharine Martin is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly.