HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hours after Hurricane Irma tore into the Florida Keys — damaging homes, boats and businesses — the Hawaii Disaster Medical Assistance Team was on the ground in Key West.
"We were the first medical team in and we like to think that we brought Hawaii to them," said the team's executive officer Toby Clairmont.
Team members set up and manned a medical tent to help the island's only hospital.
"At the time of the storm there was only one doctor still left there. There were people with injuries and illnesses that needed care and we took care of them," Clairmont said.
The group of physicians, nurses and emergency responders treated scores of people who stayed on Key West during Irma then had to weather its aftermath.
"All kinds of things -- dog bites, diarrhea, infections from minor wounds that went uncared for, chest pains, respiratory illness. We even took care of a dog that was attacked," Clairmont said.
The team worked 12 to 20 hours a day.
"That's why we only stay deployed for two weeks because it's such a big emotional and physical burden on us," Clairmont said.
He rates the damage he saw in Key West second only to what he witnessed after Hurricane Katrina.
"It was a very significant storm," he said.
Hawaii's team is one of several Disaster Medical Assistance Teams the federal government calls on during major disasters. When they're not volunteering, team members work in clinics and hospitals. They can mobilize within 12 hours to anywhere in the U.S.
Clairmont said people in Key West were surprised to learn the group traveled all the way from Hawaii help them.
"A woman in her 80s who came back every day for dressing changes asked to address my team before we redeployed," Clairmont said. "She gave a very emotional and personal sharing about what we meant to them by showing up. There wasn't a dry eye in the house."