Monday, October 26, 2020

My Favorite Hurricane Stories



Palm Avenue West, after Steve Morgan cleared debris from street and driveways. Photos by Barry Gwinn

Palm Avenue West, after Steve Morgan cleared debris from street and driveways. Photos by Barry Gwinn

There are many stories of kindness and courage down here in my favorite town. These are some of my favorites:

Rachel Sands rode out the storm in a Naples hotel, but returned the next day. Although her home had been ravaged by floodwaters and fallen trees, she became angry and defiant at what the storm had done to Goodland. “I had to do something,” she said, “but the town was in such a chaotic condition, I didn’t know where to start.” Amidst the rubble, surrounding and within her home, Rachel managed to scrounge up a bedsheet. She wrote, “Goodland Strong” on the linen, and then fastened it to the “Welcome to Goodland” sign at the entrance to the village. It became a rallying point for everyone here and was published in at least three newspapers. It will always be a part of Goodland’s lore.

Rachel Sands’ iconic bedsheet served as a rallying point for stunned Goodlanders.

Rachel Sands’ iconic bedsheet served as a rallying point for stunned Goodlanders.

How bad was it here? I have talked to a few volunteers and disaster relief groups who had worked their way south through Florida, helping to bring the relief. They told me that Goodland was the worst area they had yet seen. A resident, known to me, has described conditions here when she returned a few days after the storm. “Our little village looked like a war zone,” she said, “it literally brought me to tears.” She had 15 inches of water in the house and 19 inches in the garage. In addition to the mess in the house, she sustained structural damage. After cleaning up as best they could, they moved down the street to an elderly neighbor, whom she felt was “less fortunate.” Their residence, lower than some, had 46” of water downstairs and water damage from a blow out of the attic roof. What happened next was going on to a lesser or greater extent, all over town. “We helped them move everything from their house out to the curb,” she said, “We ripped up carpeting; the kitchen cabinets had to be torn out. The sludge which came with the surge covered everything, all of which was beyond saving. We had two pressure washers going to clean areas to walk on, so that we could safely move around without slipping. That sludge was toxic. It stuck to everything. It was like a clay consistency, which was even hard to wash off with a pressure washer. Then, there was the challenge of the dust, when this stuff dried. There was an influx of gawkers, the rubberneckers whose only purpose was to see for themselves the heart wrenching destruction. This caused issues as they were driving around causing this toxic dust to fly through the air. This sludge covered our streets. The gawkers hindered our clean up as the streets became one lane. Our street, as well as all others turned into a town dump with everyone’s belongings lining the streets. We were hopeful that this mess would be cleaned up as soon as possible, although everyone being in the same boat, it was a test in patience. ‘Goodland’ is exactly what its name implies,” concluded this erudite resident.

Goodland Strong has done its work. Now we’re back in welcoming mode.

Goodland Strong has done its work. Now we’re back in welcoming mode.

The day after the storm, someone was out cleaning up the mess. Downed trees and branches, along with ruined furniture, appliances and pieces of homes, clogged the streets and blocked ingress to many homes. Steve Morgan, a full time resident, and active in the community, fired up his Kubota frontend loader with a hydraulic grapple and set out to see what he could do. He had brought it into Goodland before the storm, thinking it would be needed. For at least the next two weeks, Steve was out every day, moving debris from roadways and driveways, piling it out of the way at the edge of the road. Starting at early dawn, the day after the hurricane, he began by clearing Goodland Road so people could get back into the village. During those first weeks, Steve put in 10-hour days, said Greg Bello, and for three weeks after that, he continued to go whenever and wherever he was needed, refusing no one. “Steve worked tirelessly,” said Bello, “using his own fuel and resources. He even damaged a few tires and had to replace them.” Goodland residents were demoralized and stunned after the hurricane. I have heard that many were heartened to see Steve out there, fighting back. “Steve Morgan demonstrated what it means to be a truly good neighbor,” said Bello.

Richard and Carolyn Roth have been wintering in Goodland since the 1980s. They are well known for their community service and devotion to their family. They are the ones who during each Christmas and Easter seasons, hang out the silver stars and colorful plastic eggs along Goodland Road, in remembrance of their two deceased daughters. In March 2016, Carolyn suffered a stroke, which initially paralyzed her entire left side. Rich has been her caretaker ever since, while also running a small business in Michigan. With the aid of TLC and trips to rehab, Carol was making progress through the summer. And then, Irma struck; Carol was devastated. “That took the wind out of my sails,” she said. Goodland is our home, she told Rich, that’s where my friends are. She wondered if there was anything to return to and became increasingly depressed. Her condition began to deteriorate. A few days after the storm Rich and their daughter, Melanie, came down to see for themselves. Their home on E. Palm had been in the path of the initial storm surge, and took on three feet of water and a layer of mud. Everything in the house was ruined. It would have to be completely gutted. In the stifling heat and humidity which followed the storm, for the next 10 days the 80-year-old Rich Roth and his daughter tore up the carpeting, cleared the mud and removed every stick of furniture and appliances. By this time, the Roths’ neighbors and friends were chipping in. Finally, when they saw how depressed and exhausted Rich was getting, they told him to go back to care for Carolyn. We will finish the job, they told him. After Rich returned to Michigan, these neighbors, at their own expense, ripped out and replaced all the dry wall, much of which had been furnished by the NYFD. A new shower is currently being installed and new kitchen cabinets are on order. It looks like Carolyn may get to return to her beloved Goodland sooner than she thinks.

There were many other acts of kindness and courage that took place here. These are a few of my favorites.

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

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