15 years. I was part of the small group of islanders who decided to stay and ride out the storm. Staying was a difficult decision to make, but it was the best I could do at the time. As the threat of storm surge loomed, my children and I hastily packed to move to higher ground. On September 9th, I took one final look around my house knowing it might be the last time it looked like home. Bringing only necessities, my pets, and most cherished personal items, I knew that everything else could be replaced, although I had no idea how I might do that.Seeing firsthand the power of Irma, I was nervous about venturing out to photograph the aftermath. What I saw was overwhelming. Everywhere I looked had devastation. Luckily, most of the damage was landscape debris, uprooted trees, roof damage, and downed power lines. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that my own home had only minor damage. On Saturday, September 16th, after only one hour of having my power restored, my best friend pulled up and said “Grab your camera and get in. We are delivering a truckload of ice to Everglades City.”
And there it was, everywhere I looked in Everglades City, my nightmare scenario. The effects of the storm surge we had all been warned about. Mud and standing water everywhere… home after home with all contents and personal items curbside. Clothing, toys, mattresses, appliances, fitness equipment, furniture, lining the streets in a mangled muddy mess. There I was facing what I’d feared most, and my heart sank. These people had lost everything they’d worked for: their homes and belongings.As we drove around and the guys delivered ice, I talked to the residents and they shared their stories with me. I asked what they needed and what would help them the most. In the following days, we returned with requested items. Some moments change you forever, and witnessing Everglades City post Irma was one of those defining and humbling moments for me. I was reminded of the small community in Illinois that I’m from. A place where everyone knows each other and everyone helps their neighbor, especially when there is a need. Everglades City is one of those communities. They are helping each other, but they also need everyone’s help to recover from a devastation of this magnitude. A local charity in the rural Everglades City area, Reach Out Everglades & C.O.P.S. Association, Inc., is helping get necessities and funds to those families. Contributions are needed urgently. For more information or to contribute visit www.reachouteverglades.org or send a check to “Reach Out Everglades” with a memo line: “IRMA Fund” at Reach Out Everglades, P.O. Box 894, Chokoloskee, FL, 34138.
Reach Out Everglades & C.O.P.S. Association, Inc. serves this remote area in Southwest Florida, which includes Chokoloskee and Plantation Island. It is a 501(3) (c) not-for-profit corporation. Your donation qualifies as a tax deduction.If you have skills that may be useful in their recovery, please contact Elaine at 305- 962-8136.