The Burnsed family was enjoying a relaxing summer vacation on Dog Island, south of Carrabelle, Fla. But slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby had other plans for them. Debby, stalling multiple times in the Gulf of Mexico, dumped up to 5 inches of rain per hour on parts of the Florida Panhandle this past weekend.
The heavy rains caused the family to be stranded in their vacation home, which was located on a narrow sandbar at the southwest portion of Dog Island. With water surrounding them in every direction, and waves crashing against the home’s structure, the family knew they had to evacuate. But they were running out of options.
A boat had originally brought the family to the island but could not come back for them due to the weather conditions from the storm. There was no way for them to evacuate to higher ground – until the Coast Guard was called in.
Watchstanders at Sector Mobile received a phone call from the family shortly after noon and launched the 6039 aircrew from Aviation Training Center Mobile.
“Due to the severe weather from Tropical Strom Debby, it took a great deal of ingenuity and teamwork across the Coast Guard to deploy an available aircraft and crew safely and effectively,” said Lt. Sara Vinh from the 8th Coast Guard District command center. “Launching in severe weather is dangerous, but when lives are at stake, it’s our duty to respond.”
The 6039 aircrew knew they were headed out on an unusual mission; they’re used to saving boaters miles offshore or plucking them from a sinking boat along the coast. This time, the aircrew found themselves hovering over someone’s home.
While they weren’t saving someone far out at sea, one thing remained the same – lives needed to be saved.
“I felt excited and ready to go when we got the call. Once I go out the door and down on deck, my training takes over. You don’t want to screw anything up, you just want everyone to be safe,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Sinclair, the aircrew’s rescue swimmer.
The 6039 arrived and hoisted each of the nine family members – five adults and four children, along with their two dogs – to safety. One of the survivors, Caroline Burnsed, recalled being nervous and then scared as she was hoisted into the rescue basket, water crashing below her.
But in the end, her fear dissipated and turned to gratitude.
“I’m just so grateful to the Coast Guard. It shows so much that people will risk their lives for other people they don’t even know. I only talked with the guy that came with the basket. He stayed calm, and he was very kind and helpful,” said Burnsed.
It took teamwork and trained responders to help out the Burnsed family. But you can also do your part to prepare your own family and home. Like many tropical storms and hurricanes, the hazards brought on by Tropical Storm Debby still remain, even if the storm has already passed. In fact, the greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from storm surges.
According to the National Hurricane Center, torrential rains and storm surge from Debby have created the potential for significant inland flooding at several locations over the next couple of days.
If you or your loved ones are in the areas impacted by Tropical Storm Debby, keep up with the latest updates on the storm’s path at the National Hurricane Center. For those not currently in the storm’s path, ensure you and your home are ready for future disasters by visiting Ready.gov.
With contributions from Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann, 8th Coast Guard District.