09.15.2017People

Couple drives into Hurricane Irma to help Florida strangers

By: Megan Schaefer
Karisa Jones in front of her car

Karisa Jones had never experienced a hurricane before. In fact, the only kind of weather the Nevada native faced while living in Las Vegas was either extremely hot or frigid temperatures. “There’s no in between,” she says, explaining that one of the reasons she was excited to move east was to finally encounter all four seasons. But little did Karisa know that four months after making the trek to her new state of Missouri, she’d be getting a crash course in climate — starting with Hurricane Harvey.

When the catastrophic storm made landfall in Texas, Karisa’s friend was just one of the thousands of people impacted by the devastating hurricane. “Her home was destroyed,” Karisa says, noting that she felt completely helpless as her friend struggled from afar. Karisa’s friend told her that in addition to Harvey leaving her without a home, the storm also left her without the basic necessities — like water. “They didn’t have anything. Nothing,” she recounts.

That’s when Karisa decided to pack her bags, stuff as many cases of water that could fit in her car and head to Florida. She wanted to be there for the people who were about to face the most powerful storm in the Atlantic ocean: Hurricane Irma.

“It was simply to help out,” Karisa explains what motivated her to drive 17 hours down to Florida. “It was to do the right thing.” 

They didn’t have anything. Nothing.

So, on Friday, Karisa and her boyfriend, Neal Ranzoni, left Missouri to be there for, well, strangers.

Their original mission was to hit the road and head to Jacksonville. But when the hurricane switched directions, so did they. “It was the worst storm of the century for Tampa,” she says, giving details of just how brutal Irma was. “It was crazy. Windy. You could hear branches snapping off.”

Karisa explains that Irma was so strong it caused power outages in Florida. “Power went out Sunday. And Tampa still doesn’t have it back,” she says, revealing that’s when her Verizon service was essential. Despite being in the middle of the hurricane, Karisa’s service was still there for her. That allowed her to stay up to date with the news and weather so that she could help those in need.

After the storm hit, Karisa relied on her network to find those who needed assistance. “I just Googled it. I looked it up,” she says, explaining that having connectivity allowed her to track down which neighborhoods were impacted and in need of help.

According to Karisa, the people who needed the most aid were those who were homeless before Irma had even struck Florida. She decided that’s where she would focus. Using her phone, she researched what she could to find under-served neighborhoods.

“We came across a park and there were 10 to 15 homeless people just sitting there. We handed out water and then drove around to hand out more. Majority of people were like, ‘Thank you for the water. We really appreciate it,” she says, adding that Floridians were also shocked to learn that they traveled from Missouri for relief and recovery. “So many people were surprised that we drove from Missouri down to Florida to help.”

Over the past few days, we’ve heard from many grateful people, like Karisa, about how important it was to maintain their connection through Irma. And while most relied on it to call for help if they needed it, many shared a realization that losing connectivity would leave their loved ones worried that something might have happened to them. Some even said that they would turn to those without service and let them use their phones to give their own friends and family peace of mind.

As Texas and Florida both recover from these devastating hurricanes, we’ll continue to do our part because we know how important it is.

See how Verizon employees stepped up to support the Hand in Hand telethon.

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About the author(s): 

Megan Schaefer is a member of the Verizon’s external communications team. Her areas of interest include brand storytelling, social strategy and technology.