Finally, a hurricane survivor of LaBelle has something to smile about.
Early April 4, a group of caring Christians, friends and neighbors gathered under the oak tree in her front yard. They were there to celebrate the recovery of her home, severely damaged by Hurricane Irma nearly seven months ago.
It was welcomed relief and a respite from ongoing struggles.
Her husband was in the Miami Veterans hospital with a major heart ailment. She doesn’t drive. Their income is from his pension with the U.S. Postal Service and small Social Security check.
But on this morning, she was all smiles. She’s just received news that her husband was coming home to the house they have called home for 19 years.
The house has a new roof—not just a patch job—and a new front door. The debris has been removed from the yard. The house on the other side is still awaiting a new roof under a bright blue tarp.
They did not evacuate as Irma made landfall about 80 miles south of LaBelle. Earlier, her husband rode his bicycle the two miles to town to buy emergency food and supplies. She helped neighbors nail boards over their windows.
During the nearly two-day battering from the storm, they heard the roof being ripped away by 100-plus mile-per-hour winds. More than 20 inches of rain flooded their yard and neighborhood.
During the storm, a neighbor’s large dog came to their door. She quickly brought the dog inside, made a bed for it in her utility room and shared her canned rations with the animal.
Hours later after the storm passed, the couple ventured outside to splash in ankle-deep water. The dog was reunited with its owners. The destruction in the neighborhood was major, but families had survived.
Days later a learning process began that left the couple in despair.
Homeowners insurance is a luxury they couldn’t afford, and their FEMA application was rejected. They didn’t have nearly enough money to replace the damaged roof.
That’s when other possibilities began to take shape.
They contacted Peter Newman, the LaBelle Disaster Recovery Case Manager for the Florida United Methodist Conference. Slowly, carefully, while seated around their kitchen table, Newman accumulated all the documents and led the family through the process necessary to secure repairs for their home.
The April celebration brought an amazing collection of people together who had combined their efforts to help the couple.
Funds were provided by the local Rotary Club, the Hendry-Glades Coalition for Unmet Needs chipped in, the Mennonite Church Disaster Recovery team donated labor and the Florida United Methodist Conference came through.
An anonymous donor also stepped up to complete the repairs.
There was one final step.
Amy Greene, the Florida Conference disaster recovery chaplain, asked everyone to come forward to lay hands on the house while she offered a prayer of blessing for the family. Their home was complete again.
—Phil Keyes is a freelance writer based in LaBelle.