He made it through Harvey, Irma: How a Texan is using social media to help Keys residents
In the right place at the right time, a Texas man who weathered Hurricane Harvey and is now in Key Largo has become a go-to for evacuees wanting to know how their property fared after Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida.
Houston resident Brad Whitworth knew his second home in the Keys sat in the path of Irma.
Sleep-deprived and running on adrenalin, Whitworth packed up supplies and flew late last week to Florida to prepare his home for the beating it was about it receive. His wife bought him a round-trip ticket expecting him to return, but once in Key Largo Whitworth knew he had to stay.
Whitworth documented his experience on Instagram to let his wife back in Texas and others know what the community was facing. But it was what Whitworth took on after the storm that has made his social media a bit different.
Helping the Keys community
After Irma passed, the professional photographer checked on his own home and then set out to help others know the fate of theirs. “We are a tight-knit community,” he said. “We all know each other.”
Many residents had evacuated the Keys and had no way of finding out whether their homes were even standing anymore. They began reaching out to him through social media and his business website, he said. Whitworth races motorcycles and is a partner with the Legends and Heroes Tour — a traveling museum showcasing the history of Motocross and Supercross.
“I receive 200-300 messages a day of people asking about their homes,” he said. “I’ve visited about 75 homes so far, and plan to keep going out when I can.”
Whitworth takes pictures and posts them to his Instagram showing the damage — or lack of — for the homeowner to see.
For Dawn Fritz, who lives in Atlanta, seeing her family’s vacation home, dubbed The Fritz-Carlton, still standing gave her a sense of relief.
“I saw Brad on Instagram while searching for photos of Key Largo,” she told CNN. “He could jump into action in many ways but found a niche, providing a service like no one has done before.”
Fritz sent Whitworth a message and asked him to please check on their property. The family’s white and baby blue one-story home seems untouched by Irma, except for the debris and roofing material strewn around the yard.
“His service to hundreds of neighbors he has never met is inspiring,” she told CNN.
Whitworth’s own home endured 18 inches of water inside and part of his porch was ripped off by the heavy winds.
“I saw mine,” he said.” It was damaged and I said, ‘OK, let’s go look at the others.'”
As CNN talked to him on the phone, locals who just arrived to the area were clapping and waiting to meet him. “I’m trying to get everyone taken care of,” he said. “I just want to help everyone in the community.”
Riding out Irma
Just a few days ago, Whitworth hunkered down at the Blue Waters Marina in Tavernier with another local, Eric Francis, ready for a rough night ahead. They were stocked up on water, food, a generator, gas, life vests, scuba gear and medical supplies,
“I just survived Harvey in Houston and knew I could get through this,” he told CNN. “I’ve never been so prepared for a hurricane.”
Tavernier is located 6 miles south from Key Largo. Whitworth, 54, decided to ride out Irma at the marina, where two scuba diving friends lived. One has had multiple neck and back surgeries. “So I wanted to be close to them in case they needed anything.”
Irma brought rain and 100 mph gusts. The storm pushed the boats around the marina and pieces of the roofing flew off. “Harvey was mellow compared to this,” he said.
Whitworth and Francis, who helped tie down boats that came loose, even had a little fun shooting some hoops with a basketball they found floating in the flooded waters.
“I couldn’t imagine going through this without these three people.”
Helping with rescue efforts in Harvey
Before Irma slammed Florida, Whitworth watched Hurricane Harvey bring torrential rains to his neighborhood, overflowing the creek near his house.
“Thankfully, my home was safe,” he told CNN. “Water was up to the sidewalk, but never threatened the home.”
Whitworth helped transport Texans from boats to other locations.
He will likely be in the Keys for months, rebuilding his own damaged home.