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Tribe, STOFI, Seminole Gaming, Hard Rock step up to help Dorian victims in Bahamas

HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon Wareham stood amid more than 25,000 bottles of drinking water in the Seminole Wholesale Distributors warehouse.

Just days earlier the water had been purchased with the intention that it could be needed for Tribal members, emergency operations and customers should powerful Hurricane Dorian, which churned in the Atlantic Ocean less than 200 miles away, wallop Florida.

As it turned out, Dorian only teased the state’s east coast, but some of the islands in the Bahamas weren’t as lucky. Dorian, a category 5 monster, relentlessly pounded the islands in early September, resulting in the country’s worst natural disaster.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, including the Tribal Council, the Board, Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming, immediately shifted from preparation mode to distribution and donation mode.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas, relief efforts were organized by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock to help the victims. Capt. Ignacio Fleites, Capt. Juan Laserna, airplane maintenance manager Jose Diazviana and cabin attendant Cheryl Russell load cases of bottled water onto the Seminole Tribe’s plane, which brought thousands of supplies to the Bahamas on multiple trips. (Photo Courtesy Clint El-Ramey, Seminole Hard Rock Support Services)

“Traditionally, in our stories and in our culture, we are taught that we share,” Wareham said. “When you have an abundance, you share; when you have nothing, you share.”

After Seminole Wholesale Distributors receiving clerk Antwan Jackson loaded the hundreds of cases of Ice River Springs bottled water onto a truck, Wareham and Tara Chadwick blessed the water that would be brought to the Bahamas.

It was a simple, brief ceremony, but one that carried plenty of meaning.

Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon Wareham and Seminole Wholesalers Distributors receiving clerk Antwan Jackson stand near thousands of bottles of drinking water donated by Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. to the Bahamas. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“I felt by doing that we were like elevating the water so it was not only going to take care of the physical needs of the people who are in great need of the water, but also to pass along some of that healing that needs to happen as part of the recovery process,” said Chadwick, an Indigenous woman of Mayan descent.

In total, two 18-wheel tractor-trailers were used to cart away the water. One truckload donation was made on behalf of Seminole Wholesale and the other on behalf of Seminole Petroleum. Both are entities of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc (STOFI).

Also, in the days immediately following the hurricane, the Tribe and Hard Rock used its aviation resources, including two helicopters and a single-engine Pilatus PC-12/45 airplane, to make multiple daily roundtrip flights for several days with supplies aboard.

From left, Navarro Bastian, Christiano Gayle and Collins Lightbourne, all afffiliated with the import-export company Fowlco in the Bahamas that helped in the relief efforts, stand in front of the Seminole Tribe plane that brought cases of drinking water to the islands in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. (Courtesy Clint El-Ramey, Seminole Hard Rock Support Services)

Seats were removed from the plane in order to free up space for supplies. Cases of bottled water transported by the Tribe were collected by Banyan Air Service at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport and then trucked using Seminole Gaming vehicles to Sheltair Aviation.

Deliveries were made in cooperation with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, which operates the Grand Bahama International Airport at Freeport.

Bahamian Navarro Bastian helps unload water off the Seminole Tribe plane with Captain Pablo Lemarchand in the Bahamas. (Photo Courtesy Clint El-Ramey, Seminole Hard Rock Support Services)

The port authority is the municipal authority that governs Freeport and is one of the entities working to help hurricane victims.

Elsewhere, donation drop-off areas were set up outside the Seminole Classic Casino at the corner of Stirling Road and U.S. 441 in Hollywood as well as the Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee.

“The Seminole Tribe has a long and important history with the people of The Bahamas, and we are committed to helping them in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian,” said Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.

From left, in front row, Gwen Fuller, Sheryl Sommerville-Grant, and in back, from left, Ricardo, Jacinth Brown, Wilson Lascano and Sylvia Sadio help collect donations for Hurricane Dorian victims at the Seminole Classic Casino’s drop-off location outside the casino in Hollywood. (Photo Analicia Austin)

On Sept. 21, Kuro restaurant at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood participated in the Lift a Fork, Lend a Hand fundraiser for Dorian relief and recovery through World Central Kitchen, an organization founded by Chef Jose Andres that delivers meals after natural disasters.

Andres told CBS that the organization would deliver more than 7,500 meals in the Bahamas.

Dorian’s destructive path left more than 50 people dead and 70,000 homeless on the Bahamas before it headed north and caused further damage along the U.S. east coast and Canada’s maritime provinces.

Aside from beach erosions, Florida mostly escaped Dorian’s wrath. At one point, hurricane watches and/or warnings were posted from Deerfield Beach to points north, including Fort Pierce.

In preparation for potential impact, the Tribe closed at noon on Friday, Aug. 30 and remained closed after the Labor Day holiday, reopening Wednesday, Sept. 4. During the threat of the storm, emergency command operation centers were activated in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Fort Pierce. Buildings and homes were boarded up and sandbags were brought in.

Dozens of sandbags were ready to be used at Chupco’s Landing in Fort Pierce if needed, but Dorian only skirted the east coast of Florida and its impact inland was minor. (Kevin Johnson)

A lot of attention was focused on the Chupco’s Landing reservation in Fort Pierce as that city had the highest probability of receiving hurricane force winds out of all the reservations; at one point, forecasts had it pegged at more than 50% probability, but those winds never arrived.

Emergency staff stayed overnight at Chupco’s to ensure its safety. During the preparations, a declaration of state of emergency was issued by Chairman Osceola. On Aug. 31, President Donald J. Trump approved an emergency declaration for the Seminole Tribe.

A press release from the White House stated: “President Donald J. Trump declared that an emergency exists for the Seminole Tribe of Florida and ordered Federal assistance to supplement the Tribe’s response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from Hurricane Dorian beginning on August 28, 2019, and continuing.”

The action authorized the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at