They were strangers yesterday but are bringing relief to Texas flood water victims today.
“About 12 hours,” chuckled Ratmire Rafikov from the backseat.
It takes 15 hours to drive from Tampa to Houston, where residents are still recovering from the devastation left behind last week by Hurricane Harvey. The Category-4 hurricane ripped apart families and left water up to rooftops in many areas.
“I would have dropped everything to go out there and help because this is a number one priority,” said Chandler Jerricho. “So, I feel like this truly is a duty.”
Rafikov, Jerricho and his girlfriend, Jasmine Russell, all crammed into the back of Nathan Blackburn’s van. Omar Fuentes rode shotgun. The five University of South Florida alums didn’t all meet each other until 11 p.m. Thursday night when they left Trinity, Fla. for Houston.
“I’m exited about this personally because I live for this stuff,” said Blackburn.
Last year, after flood waters ravaged Louisiana, Blackburn, representing Post 9/11 Veterans, and friends delivered 20,000 water bottles to victims there. This year, with the help of his new buddies, he will deliver around $5,000 in relief money and supplies thanks to an online fundraising campaign.
“People lost everything. Why would be not go?” he said via a FaceTime interview. “We have the resources to do it. Why not go?”
Jerricho, who owns ReBuilt Meals, got some help from Russell and friends packing 1,500 meals to hand out in Houston. Mailing the meals from afar wasn’t helpful enough for the couple.
“Every single morning I’ve been on the Stairmaster at the gym and I’ve been watching the news since the storm hit and it’s been breaking my heart watching all these families just lose everything,” said Russell. “So, when Chandler asked me. “’Do you want to go to Texas?’ I was like, ‘Hands down, let’s go. I want to go’. I’ve been watching all this news. Let’s just do whatever we possibly I can.”
Fuentes, a Marine veteran, operates the Semper Fi Project. His military instincts kicked after seeing video of how awful the impact was from Harvey.
“The only thing I could think of was it was devastating for me,” he said. “I felt the impact of seeing someone lose essentially a huge part of their lives.”
The trip will last the weekend for the new friends from Tampa. They hope to find the areas of biggest need after arriving in Texas and do whatever is needed.
“Even if we can influence one person on this whole trip, that alone is worth it to us,” said Rafikov.
To support the group’s relief efforts, you can donate here.
© 2018 WTSP-TV