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Guardsmen Help Key West Residents
Soldiers airlift pallets of relief supplies to Key West High School.

By Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs

Staff Sgt. Deborah Miale of the Florida Army National Guard's 260th Military Intelligence Battalion (left) talks with Donald Cobert - the self-proclaimed "Wizard of Key West" - at a food and water distribution site in Key West, Oct. 27, 2005. U.S. Army p hoto by Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Staff Sgt. Deborah Miale of the 26th Military Intelligence Battalion explained that the people had been arriving all day in cars, on bicycles and even on foot.

Cobert weren't unusual at the Key West distribution point.

As she gave boxes of food, water and cleaning supplies to hurricane victims, a man wearing multicolored clothes and sporting a black top hat with feathers rode up to her on a battered bicycle. Miale was about to meet the self-proclaimed, semi-famous, “Wizard of Key West.”

The colorful bicyclist – Donald Cobert of Key West – chatted briefly with the Guardsmen while receiving four boxes of food.

“This was probably the worst storm I've seen here,” said Cobert, whose vibrant outfit matched his unique moniker. “I live on the second floor, and my building was shaking.”

As the “Wizard” pedaled away, Miale said that visits by
fantastically dressed residents like Cobert weren't unusual at the Key West distribution point.

Sitting in a wheelchair outside the high school gymnasium and watching some of the recovery efforts, 66-year-old Marly Knowles described how the flooding from the hurricane took her by surprise:

“It was so awful,” she said. “I fell asleep, and when I got up off the bed I put my foot down and I couldn't believe that halfway up to my knee was water.

“At first it was such a shock I didn't even know what it was,” Knowles, a widow who's lived in Key West since 1959, explained. “Then I realized ‘Oh, my house is flooded!'”

Knowles lost part of her roof from hurricane-force winds and said she had seen similar damage throughout the city.

More than 3,000 Guardsmen and women were mobilized and supported operations in the South Florida area in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

KEY WEST, Fla., Nov. 1, 2005 –– Flying high above the azure waters of the Florida Keys, National Guard aviators helped expedite Hurricane Wilma recovery Oct. 27 as they delivered pallets of water to hurricane victims in Key West.

Four Army National Guard helicopters – including three UH-60 Black Hawks and one CH-47 Chinook – airlifted 12 pallets of bottled water from Homestead Air Reserve Base to the football field at Key West High School during a morning mission as part of the ongoing hurricane recovery operations.

The high school had suffered only minor storm damage, and was serving as both an evacuee shelter and a distribution point where Florida Army National Guard soldiers passed out the water to lines of waiting Key West residents.

“This was probably the worst storm I’ve seen here. I live on the second floor, and my building was shaking.”
Donald Cobert, resident of Key West.

After the Black Hawks – flown by members of the Florida National Guard's 1 st Battalion, 171 st Aviation Regiment – touched down at the football field and delivered their pallets of water, Guardsmen used forklifts to move the supplies to the adjacent distribution point.

Florida Army National Guard Black Hawks deliver water to Key West during Hurricane Wilma recovery operations, Oct. 27, 2005. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Last Updated:
11/30/2005, Eastern Daylight Time
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