Hurricane Irma: Heroes and Help meeting recognizes ‘above and beyond’ heroes

By Bari Auerbach

The stories were inspirational......some of them bringing tears to the eyes of the 150+ guests at the Aventura Marketing Council/Chamber of Commerce’s (AMC)  Breakfast Meeting.  With Hurricane Irma changing our lives and having us realize how fortunate we were to escape the wrath of the storm’s eye, the AMC and meeting sponsors, the Moffitt Malignant Hematology & Cellular Therapy at Memorial Healthcare System, decided to recognize “Hurricane Irma heroes” who went above and beyond to serve and protect residents and businesses before, during and after the storm. The healthcare system’s mantra, “Stronger Together Against Cancer” was right in line with “Stronger Together”, the theme of the meeting.

Maggie Wiegandt, Dr. Hugo Fernandez and Abby Castillo, Memorial Healthcare System

Maggie Wiegandt, Dr. Hugo Fernandez and Abby Castillo, Memorial Healthcare System

AMC Chair Gary Pyott, CEO of Association 1st and Maggie Wiegandt, Vice President, Oncology Services, Memorial Cancer Institute, welcomed hundreds of AMC business and community leaders who nominated “hurricane heroes” earning well-deserved recognition.

The meeting also provided a forum for “hurricane help” from professionals providing free expert advice:  Accountant Lara Srour, Gerstle, Rosen & Rosenberg CPAs; Attorney Dennis Eisinger, Eisinger Brown Lewis Frankel & Chaiet;  Alina Sanchez, Mercantil Bank;  Dr. Jaap Donath, Miami-Dade Beacon Council, Business Disaster Recovery Programs;  Steve Goitia, IT Doctors;  Gary Pyott, Condo/HOA  Disaster Management;  George Ray, FIU  Small Business Development Center Disaster Recovery Funding; Dany Sebaaly, Builcore General Contracting;  Bob Hollander, Brown and Brown Insurance;  Bill Worrall, FirstService Residential; Jimmy Farach, Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters;  Larry Goldenberg,  LaPorta Contracting; and Maxine Goldberg, Dry Tech 24/7.

Providing an overview of Memorial Healthcare System’s heroic efforts to save lives, Dr. Hugo Fernandez,  Department Chair, Moffitt Malignant Hematology & Cellular Therapy,  a specialist in hematology and bone marrow transplants,  explained Memorial’s partnership with Moffitt Cancer Center facilitates “combined strength” in the fight against leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

By bringing Moffitt’s proven standard of care to Memorial, Moffitt provides stronger cancer care closer to home, including expanded malignant hematology and oncology services not previously available. Members of the multi-disciplinary team are some of the nation’s most experienced specialists in helping patients who have been diagnosed with a blood cancer.

Memorial’s partnership with Moffitt Cancer Center brings lifesaving expertise and excellence from one of the nation’s most respected, world-class cancer centers in South Florida. Moffitt Cancer Center is the only National Institute designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Florida. For more information, visit or phone: 954-265-HEAL (4325).

Introducing “Hurricane heroes,” Pyott and Wiegandt shared the sentiment, “We’ve all read about the amazing efforts of individuals and organizations who worked around the clock when Hurricane Irma tore through South Florida. From FEMA to the American Red Cross, to our military, first responders, law enforcement, fire rescue and all the volunteers who opened their hearts and homes, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Combined with heartfelt applause from the audience, certificates of appreciation were bestowed by presenters including:  Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman, Commissioners Denise Landman and Gladys Mezrahi and City Manager Eric Soroka; Florida State Rep. Barbara Watson; Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman; North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Commissioner Phyllis Smith; Sunny Isles Beach Vice Mayor Dana Goldman and Commissioners Jeanette Gatto, Larisa Svechin and City Manager Chris Russo.

FPL and FPL Power Delivery:  Vice President Aletha Player and Roque Goitia, Crew Supervisor and his team

After over four million customers lost power, FPL assembled the largest restoration workforce in US history to help restore customers’ lives and communities back to normal. The efforts of this team led to the country’s fastest completion of power restoration to the largest amount of people by any one utility.

Miami Dade County Public Schools:   Region Director Sally Alayon and principals Christopher Shinn, Mary Pardo, Dr. Adam Kosnitzsky

Under the Direction of MDCP Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, 42 schools in the district became shelters, housing thousands of families. After the storm, hundreds of employees also helped reopen schools and ensure the safety of returning students while offering free breakfast and lunch to all students through October 20th.

Memorial Healthcare System:  Maggie Wiegandt, Dr. Hugo Fernandez, Abby Castillo, Carol Margolis

Memorial leaders Tim Curtin, Marilyn Camerota and, Mary Peddy helped provide free emergency child care for essential staff at six hospital, assisted by HR Departments, Community Youth Services and Memorial Child Care Center. Their efforts enabled employees to care for patients, knowing their children were well taken care of and had a safe haven in the storm.

City of Aventura: Police, Public Works, Community Services and Community Development Department:   Aventura City Commission, City Manager Eric Soroka, Police Chief Brian Pegues and his department

The entire city, under  Emergency Management Director Soroka, reacted quickly and efficiently to get the city back on its feet after the storm, expertly implementing the city’s Hurricane Response Plan and maintaining constant communications with residents and business owners before, during and after the storm.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman

Comm. Heyman and her staff collaborated with District 4 Hurricane Strategy stakeholders and public servants to mobilize supplies, services, and assistance throughout Northeast Miami-Dade and minimize loss and damage.

City of North Miami Beach:  Mayor George Vallejo and Commissioner Phyllis Smith

The City of North Miami Beach teamed with partners to activate safety and swift recovery initiatives, while the city’s new Division of Public Affairs kept residents updated via social media. One heroic story in the news was about a mother and her baby rescued from their flooded home by NMB police officers deploying a military-style vehicle.

Aventura Hospital and Medical Center: Dorell Green and Adam Mayle

Adam Mayle, Plant Operations Director and  Dorell Green of Environmental Services and their team members confronted hurricane force winds to successfully troubleshoot glitches in life- saving commercial-grade generators during the storm.

Hotwire Communications:  Qais Hassanzada

Hotwire’s Director of Network Operations Qais Hassanzada and his team literally moved into Hotwire technology centers to help manage recovery efforts and maintain connectivity to lifeline telephone, Internet and television services. At one point, Qais worked for 72 hours straight while living in Hotwire’s Technology Center for six days.

City of Sunny Isles Beach:  Detective Marcelino Mariabello; Sunny Isles Beach City Commission, City Manager Chris Russo and Captain Dwight Snyder

Hard hit by Irma, Sunny Isles Beach community leaders united to launch a swift cleanup and restoration plan. Selfless efforts included Police Detective Marcelino Mariabello’s heroic actions that saved an elderly man after gale force winds pinned him to a fence.  An emergency call had been sounded for police personnel to seek shelter, yet Det. Mariabello risked his own life to rescue the man in the nick of time.

Florida State Rep. Barbara Watson

For her hurricane help and responsiveness, Rep. Barbara Watson is being lauded by residents and business owners including Marc Hurwitz, who represents 13,000 residents in the Sky Lake/ Highland Lakes area. He reports, “Rep. Watson was just wonderful in helping with our emergencies!”

Mount Sinai Medical Center: Team A Members; Oscar Llorente; Regina Gitman

Mount Sinai employees and physicians left their own families to help maintain a safe shelter at the Medical Center for patients including third-trimester expectant moms. The coordinated effort was overseen by Mount Sinai Safety Officer April Hoyt, working with the Miami Beach Office of Emergency Management.

Miami Dolphins: Leslie Nixon, Jennifer Jehn, Miami Dolphins Foundation

Beyond $1 million pledged by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for long-term rebuilding and storm recovery, the Dolphins Special Teams powered by AARP Foundation volunteer program is assisting with rebuilding projects and  a dollar-for-dollar matching campaign, with proceeds going directly to assist communities in need.

Comcast: Sean Embril, Virgil King

Comcast technicians sprung into action after the storm to repair damage and re-connect local customers to Internet, phone, cable and home security services. Over 300,000 feet of new cable was installed to replace damaged lines- enough to cover more than 800 football fields. There were downed and tangled lines and lengthy spans of melted fire cable.

Marc Hurwitz

As voluntary President of the SkyLake/Highland Lakes area Homeowners Association, Marc Hurwitz gave up his business and personal life to activate the HOA Community Emergency Response Team, addressing recovery efforts including power and communications, security and debris removal.

AT&T:   Cristal Cole, Regional Director External Affairs

AT&T is giving another $1.4 million in relief towards sustained recovery efforts In Florida, Texas and the Caribbean in the wake of devastating hurricanes. The additional funds include matching donations to local charities in states impacted by Irma as well as Team Rubicon, a veteran-led, non-profit disaster response group and Telcoms Sans Frontieres, working to re-establish connectivity for emergency responders and communities in the Caribbean.

Portsview Condominium at the Waterways:  Maintenance, Janitorial and Security staff led by Luis Coste and Raheem Tynes

Luis Coste, Assistant Chief Engineer and Raheem Tynes, Security Staff Rover, went above and beyond by remaining in the building throughout the emergency to protect the community and ensure the safety of Portsview residents.

Imperial Club:  Jana Perez

Imperial Club manager Jana Perez opened the community’s doors to shelter elderly and special needs residents experiencing power outages.  She also generously donated cash and items for the Aventura Police Department’s relief trip to the Florida Keys.

Atlantic Broadband

Atlantic Broadband received “hurricane hero” recognition for working tirelessly to restore phone, cable and Internet services to Northeast Miami-Dade residents.

Jewish Community Center:   Etel Salm

JCS mobilized nearly 400 employees to provide emergency services and hundreds of food deliveries to elderly and homebound clients, while fielding over 9,000 calls for assistance.

Aventura Chabad:   represented by Aventura Commissioner Gladys Mezrahi

The Chabad Rabbi opened the synagogue for those who were not able to get into a shelter, hosting over 100 people with the help of many volunteers. After the storm, the Chabad partnered with Kosher Kingdom to provide food for residents without power.

Aventura Marketing Council/Chamber of Commerce:  President Elaine Adler

Facilitating informative updates from sources including FPL and Comcast, Elaine helped enable residents to receive critically important information during the emergency response process.