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Local doctor flies supplies to the coast

By Rebecca Rider
rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Hurricane Florence left devastation in its wake as it plowed through the coast, but Rowan County residents aren’t about to let their fellow Carolinians suffer alone.

As the floodwaters receded from their own backyards, local businesses, schools and individuals set up donation and supply collections, or hopped in their own vehicles and made for the coast. One of those was Sean Malone, a doctor at Rowan Diagnostic Clinic. Malone also holds a pilot’s license, and has his own plane safely stored in a hangar.

In 2017, Malone and his wife flew out to Texas for a week, running supply drops to isolated towns affected by Hurricane Harvey. A small two-seater can land many places a larger aircraft can’t, he explained. That trip was part of Operation Airdrop, a non-profit that rose out of the rubble of Harvey, made up of hundreds of private pilots making trip after trip on their own dime.

“What they do is gather needed supplies, …and volunteer pilots, with whatever aircraft they have, will pick up supplies and deliver them to areas with limited access,” Malone said.

Supplies include non-perishable food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, toiletries and other needed items.

Operation Airdrop also assisted Florida and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Irma — though Malone wasn’t able to help out on those trips. And when Florence barreled in, Operation Airdrop rose to the occasion.

“This one ended up right in our backyard, so it seemed really appropriate for us to get involved again,” he said.

The non-profit is basing its operations out of the Raleigh-Durham Airport, and hundreds have responded to help deliver needed supplies to Lumberton, Wilmington and other affected areas. This time, Malone brought his son, Roger, along. Roger attends college at UNC-Wilmington, and was forced to evacuate before the storm.

Together, the pair wait for supplies to be delivered, help load them and then fly into their chosen location. Tuesday, it was Lumberton.

“We’ll probably get five or six missions today,” Malone said.

Once there, volunteers — often locals — unload the plane and deliver supplies.

“Generally the people who were volunteering were people who had already lost everything,” Malone said of past trips.

He anticipates the same to be true in North Carolina. Malone had yet to make his first trip Tuesday morning, but from what he’s seen of newscasts, the damage to the coast is immense.

“From what I’ve seen on the news so far, it looks a lot like Houston,” he said.

Malone will be flying missions through Sunday. During that time, the J.F. Hurley YMCA will be collecting supplies for Operation Airdrop — the drive began at noon Tuesday. Those wanting to learn more about Operation Airdrop can visit www.operation-airdrop.com.

Other local supply drives include:

  • West Rowan High School will be collecting canned food items to help those affected by Hurricane Florence. Boxes will be set up Thursday and Friday at all home sporting events, as well as in the front office, to collect these items.
  • NorthGate Church, 1255 West Ridge Road, will have a staging and collection place for bottled water and diapers and hygiene supplies etc. for storm victims. Just bring in your offering of water and other essential products to be sent to sister churches out east for distribution.
  • Saleeby-Fisher East Rowan YMCA is collecting bottled water, cleaning supplies, toiletries, batteries, diapers and wipes, storage containers, non-perishable canned goods and pet food. Donations will be accepted until Monday, Sept. 24.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264

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