MIAMI (CBSMiami) — June 1 marked the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. As South Florida prepares for the new season, some residents are still feeling the impact of Hurricane Irma nearly two years ago.
Irma was a strong Category 4 hurricane when it slammed into the lower Florida Keys in September 2017.
Big Pine Key was ground zero and many people are still rebuilding.
“Coming down the Keys there were fences down, deer roaming around, there was boats everywhere, seaweed everywhere,” recalls Big Pine Key resident Mandy Morris.
Residents are bonded now in a way they could never have imagined. Many remember Irma as if it was yesterday.
“Oh my God, I couldn’t even get to it because of the trees. There was a crew from North Carolina that came in with chainsaws and finally were able to get us from the street to the house,” remembers Big Pine Key resident Sandy Barth.
Barth is among those who struggled to return after the storm to assess the damage.
Things there have been cleaned up but plenty of scars remain. Many residents are still working to rebuild, but the biggest problem is finding and getting help.
“Basically, help is almost impossible. I have a friend helping me today,” she says.
Sandy is not alone. Others who have been trying to rebuild find very few people to do it, or the money to do it.
“I had yard space but I need welding done, I needed engine work done, I need glassing done, I need painting done and nobody was available,” explains Suzanne Kynast.
Compounding the problem is the loss of cheap housing following the storm.
“If you’re looking around here all the little trailers are washed away. All those lots are selling for a quarter million dollars and all those places where people rented for cheap,” said Kynast.
Reggie Brouwer has been a contractor all his life, doing the work himself. He does not have to find people to help but despite that says it has been difficult.
“It’s a pain in the butt. I mean its one thing to be working and making money and going somewhere. It’s another thing to try and fix your house so you can live in it,” explains Brouwer.
As CBS4’s Dave Warren drove through Big Pine Key, he found empty lots and many for sale signs. Proof of all the people who just gave up and left.
Irma’s reach stretched up the Keys to Marathon where Fisherman’s Hospital is damaged beyond repair.
“Very frustrating and heartbreaking because we knew how bad it was,” says Rick Freeberg, CEO Fisherman’s Hospital.
The Chief Nursing Officer Cheryl Cottrell agrees.
“My concern was how we would be able to serve the community because we weren’t going to be able to use the hospital,” says Cottrell.
So they made one.
“It was a mash unit. It was a tent, there were sea containers that had been converted to patient rooms,” recalls Freeberg.
Hospital employee Laura Arbuckle continued working even though her house was destroyed. She said her hospital family made her stronger.
“The ones that stayed here are never going to leave; they will be here for the community forever,” says Arbuckle. “You don’t see tears, you see everyone happy and proud.”
Happy, proud, and still rebuilding after Irma.
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