Of all the Floridians in the path of Hurricane Irma, Pam Brekke’s father is one of the most vulnerable.
The Korean War vet has congestive heart failure, and a pacemaker helps keep him alive. To take the strain off the damaged organ, every night Brekke turns on a machine that pumps oxygen to him.
If Irma knocks out power to her neighborhood near Orlando’s airport, it could mean difficult days for her father — or worse.
So when Brekke heard on the radio that a local Lowe’s home improvement store had just gotten a surprise shipment of generators, she dropped her work at a furniture reupholstery shop and dashed 30 miles to the store.
“I was getting really nervous about the storm,” she recounted to The Washington Post on Saturday morning, taking a break from boarding up windows at her home. “We still didn’t know what it was going to do. It was just a stressful moment.”
The stress was compounded by what she found at the store: Dozens already in line, anxiously waiting to take a generator back to their own families.
One by one, the generators were snapped up.
The last box went to the person in front of Brekke.
Overwhelmed, she leaned against a display of stoves, buried her head in her arms and cried.
A man nearby noticed. He didn’t speak English that well, but he asked her what was wrong.
“I told him, ‘I’m just scared this storm’s coming and my father’s on oxygen. I’m just scared,’” Brekke recounted. “And I said, ‘That’s all right, God will provide.’ And then I turned to walk away.
“Then he stopped me. And he said ‘Ma’am, this generator’s for you. … You take it. You need it more than I do.’ ”
As Irma’s path through Florida becomes clearer, thousands of Floridians are deciding whether to stay or go. For Brekke and the other people who are staying, coming out unscathed on the other side of Irma can depend on acquiring increasingly scarce supplies: plywood to board up windows, nonperishable food, a gas-powered generator.
The competition for dwindling resources has brought out the worst in some people. A man waiting in line at a Miami gas station was shown on video pulling a gun on another motorist. The Florida attorney general says she’s gotten more than 7,000 complaints of people hiking up prices on fuel, hotels and water.
But Brekke said she believes there are also small acts of kindness in these anxious days before the hurricane: people sharing fuel and water. Neighbors helping neighbors board up windows. Or in her case, a man she’d never met placing a generator into her cart.
Brekke’s moment happened to be captured by a news crew that had staked out the Lowe’s to capture moments of chaos and desperation as Irma loomed.
Posted by Nancy Alvarez, WFTV on Thursday, September 7, 2017
They captured the embrace by the two strangers.
He can be heard softly consoling her: “Everything is okay. Everything is fine.”
She touched his face, then turned to the camera and said: “That’s a beautiful man right there.”
And then they went their separate ways.
Brekke said she didn’t even know the man’s name until she saw it on news reports.
It is Ramon Santiago. He lives near the store. His act of kindness has gone viral. And most importantly, his family won’t have to go through Irma without a generator.
When a new generator became available later that day, the store manager told WFTV that she immediately thought of Santiago.
On Friday, Santiago returned to Lowe’s with WFTV to get his own generator from the store — free of charge.
— WFMY News 2 (@WFMY) September 9, 2017
“I wanted to make sure he received it because he definitely deserved it,” manager Melissa Rodriguez told WFTV. “He’s the hero of the day.”
Brekke told The Post that’s her favorite part of the story.
And it’s been a bright spot as she agonizes over her own final preparations for the storm.
Winds for her area are forecast at 70 to 85 mph, she said. Her home will be boarded up by then, and if the power goes, her generator will be standing by, thanks to a man she referred to as “my angel.”
“It really is an awesome thing,” she told The Post. “I know there’s a lot of people out there doing the same thing — helping people in the same kind of need that I’m in.”