SOMERS POINT — Dora Israel lives in silence.
But when the severe June 30 thunderstorm left the deaf 76-year-old - who was one week removed from hip-replacement surgery - without power, the thought of also living in darkness frightened her.
“There were no lights and I was all by myself. I didn’t know what was happening or if anyone would be able to hear me calling for help,” Israel said. “I was so scared.”
An entire day passed before help arrived and when it did, it came in a surprising form - a cab driver.
Dawn Fuentes regularly drives for her husband Bris’ Somers Point-based cab company, Bris Transportation.
She was on the road when the storm hit.
“Trees were falling down all over the place and things were flying through the air horizontally. I saw things on fire and the sky light up with a green explosion. It was unbelievable,” said Fuentes, 39.
Israel is one of her regular customers.
“Miss Dora is such a nice lady, and so sweet,” Israel said. “And when you see someone like that so often, enough to know their routines, they become like an extension of your family.”
Bris Fuentes said the couple even visited Israel in the hospital recently after she broke her hip in a fall.
“We wanted to show her we were thinking about her,” he said. “We even brought her a little angel.”
The night after the storm, some of Israel’s neighbors - who regularly help her with small errands - stopped to check on her apartment, thinking she had already evacuated.
“When we got inside and found her, we could tell she was frightened. She was crying and disoriented,” said neighbor Ruth Barnett, 52. “We looked around for people who could take her to her sister’s house in Woodbine, which still had power, but everyone had already left. I didn’t think she was going to survive.”
Grasping for straws, Barnett — who, like Israel’s sister in Woodbine, does not drive — called Bris Transportation.
“I told (Dawn Fuentes) that Miss Dora was stuck here in the dark and in bad shape, but had no money,” Barnett said. “All she said was: ‘I’ll be right there.’”
Fuentes picked up Israel and drove her 15 miles to Woodbine.
The trip usually costs about $35 one way. Fuentes did it for free.
“She was so scared, I knew I had to get her to a safe place,” Fuentes said. “She can’t hear, she can’t see well and she doesn’t talk that well. ‘What if someone breaks in and finds her here? What would happen to her?’ That’s what goes through your mind.”
This gesture immediately relieved Israel, who started thanking God out loud as soon as she saw Fuentes.
“Somebody helped get me out of here. It felt good,” she said. “Oh, I was glad to see that girl. Whew, was I glad.”
Barnett called Fuentes’ actions inspiring.
“It was heroic,” Barnett said. “More people should be like that. Some people don’t give a helping hand to their own family members. She did this for essentially a stranger.”
Fuentes downplayed her act of kindness, however.
“We transport a lot of elderly people and we try to help them when we can,” Fuentes said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
But earlier this week, almost a month removed from the storm, Israel felt she still had some loose ends to tie up.
“I made her take the $30 for the ride,” the proud senior citizen boasted. “She didn’t want to, but I made her. … We’re settled up.”
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