When a storm is brewing, Jasper County’s Hispanic community now can rely on the assistance of a Beaufort woman.
Yajaira Uzcatezui became part of a group that volunteered to help Jasper County Emergency Services reach its Hispanic population before, during and after Hurricane Irma. “I feel like we helped the Hispanic community just by communicating with them before the storm and letting them know we were there to help them and provide information for them,” Uzcatezui said. “I did a lot of communicating through Facebook and posted information as soon as it was released by the emergency operations center.”
Uzcatezui was first contacted about helping out by a Ridgeland woman, Nadia Paez. Paez initially contacted her friend and Beaufort police officer Othoniel Hatchett to get the process underway. Once Hatchett received permission from his supervisors, he, Paez and Uzcatezui met with Jasper officials to get started.
Hatchett spoke at the first Jasper County Emergency Operations Center press conference about Hurricane Irma. Hatchett, born in the Dominican Republic, is the only officer with the Beaufort Police Department who speaks Spanish. He has been a member of the department for 14 years. Once cleared to help out, he was ready to speak to the community through the news conference.
“I have known Nadia for a while and she calls me when things are going on within the community and this was a time when they needed to reach out to the Hispanic community in Jasper,” Hatchett said. “I knew I could communicate with the Hispanic community and we felt I was the right person to talk to them. Jasper County has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the area and I was glad to help, as we are all one community.”
After the first news conference, Paez and Uzcatezui continued to work by providing storm updates to the Hispanic community in Jasper County and some calls from Beaufort County. Uzcatezui was given a place to stay at the operations center to be ready to work when needed. She was provided with Chief Russell Wells’ office as a working station and living quarters, giving Spanish translations when news conferences were held.
“I stayed there so that the Hispanic community had up-to-date storm information and I was very impressed by the work the EOC did,” Uzcatezui said. “I saw real commitment to all of the citizens of Jasper County, as they all did their best to keep all of the citizens safe.”
Uzcatezui stayed for three nights at the Jasper County EOC, providing updates and translations of the county’s news conferences. She was born in Venezuela and grew up in Spain. She said she has experienced storms similar to Irma, helping her understand what citizens needed to know to remain safe.
“We wanted people to get the information and big kudos to Nadia and her work,” she said. “I was actually planning on going to Aiken but stayed due to the opportunity and I wanted to be helpful. I tried to help during Hurricane Matthew by staying home and sending out information but that did not work, so this was a perfect opportunity to help out our community.
“I would like to help out again, but would like to see something more permanent, possibly for the Hispanic youth to show them what opportunities would be available to them and how they could also help their community.”
This was the first time Jasper County had an interpreter who worked throughout a storm. Jasper County Fire-Rescue spokesman Garrett Lucas said the county was glad to have the volunteers working with them.
“We knew there was a gap there between our English- and Spanish-speaking communities, but we were not sure how to bridge the gap because storms just happen at any time,” Lucas said. “Nadia approached us about helping out and we quickly responded that we could use the assistance.
“Nadia’s main role was to get the information out on social media while Uzcatezui worked inside of the EOC along with us and would translate our press conferences. We also want to recognize the city of Beaufort for allowing officer Hatchett to help out. We all worked together well.”
Photo courtesy of Nadia Paez Yajaira Uzcatezui of Beaufort, Jasper County Fire-Rescue’s Garrett Lucas and Nadia Paez during a Hurricane Irma news conference. Uzcatezui and Paez translated the information into Spanish.