Enduring Irma’s aftermath knowing others had it far worse

Our family turned off the lights late that Saturday night, Irma time, and on Sunday morning we couldn’t turn them back on. We didn’t need electric light at 7 a.m., but the air conditioning and fans weren’t working so we tried the bedside lamps as a token of verification.

Click, click. Not very bright.

As resident author, it was my duty to utter suitable remarks. I uttered three: one profane, the second obscene, the third blasphemous.

Oh, the hardship! Imagine lukewarm showers after two days, cold after three. If not for a lifetime of rugged outdoorsmanship, plus a propane camp stove to make coffee, what fate might have befallen us?

On day six, Friday, treemen from Texas came and chain-sawed a neighbor’s too-tall three-trunk gumbo limbo tree off the electric wires. They were followed by a band of powerline rebuilders from Mississippi, and at 5 p.m. the lights came on and the air conditioners went to work.

When the fixers arrived, they looked a little afraid of us. Bullseye wagged his tail, assuming they were here to play with him. Maureen, who lives on the corner, walked up with snacks and drinks and the guys ducked. When she didn’t throw any at them, they were so grateful I thought they were going to cry. They told us a lot of people had been denouncing them for not showing up sooner.

Like the fabled unknown philosopher who wept because he had no shoes, we had stopped weeping when we started meeting men who had no feet. It seemed almost everyone suffered more than we did.

For example, electricity still had not been restored in the wealthier neighborhood across the avenue. Naturally the people over there were unrestful, but the rich don’t riot.

They were pretty angry, though, as if forgetting what Harvey had done in Houston. I hope they got over it when at last they were able to turn on television and witness what Irma did to the Lower Keys and the Gulf Coast where there were many men who had no feet.

I say that figuratively, for many men there had feet but no homes, jobs or boats. I think a lot of people might have considered giving up a foot to get those back. At least if they had insurance to cover the amputation.

As the Keys surge subsided, it sucked away all sorts of stuff, natural to man-made.

Over in Everglades City and Chokoloskee, hurricane damage was as bad as in the Keys, though on a smaller scale. My friends Karen and Dave Risberg of Pembroke Pines didn’t have insurance to cover the damage to the fishing shack they bought earlier in the year.

You know the Glades Haven Cozy Cabins in Everglades City? That’s the place. Across the road at Everglades National Park’s Gulf coast visitor center, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the tidal surge at 8.78 feet. The visitor center is elevated a lot higher than the cabins, but it’s unusable too.

A friend with access to real-time satellite pix sent the Risbergs one that showed their cabin and 20 others partly to entirely off their foundations of stacked cement blocks. Driving over there once state highway 29 was cleared, they knew it was going to be bad.

“The town looks like a war zone,” said Dave, a Navy Reserve officer who has seen real war zones. “No electricity or water in most areas. There are many emergency tents set up for the locals, offering water, food, hot showers. Many people have worse damage. Many others lost vehicles and their primary residences.”

The Risberg cabin was not as bad as that, but still pretty bad. At first, they thought they would have to give the place up. Without insurance, buying there in the first place now looked like a lost gamble.

Later they returned to get dirty and make more thoughtful, realistic judgments. Dave’s report: “After three long, grueling days in 94-degree heat, Karen and I have removed everything not nailed down. All appliances are in the trash. All furniture is out there with it. None of our personal items were affected, aside from a book or two.

“The one [cabin] behind me did better but everyone had sea water, mud and grass inside. We think a tornado took the roof of one, the only cabin to lose a roof.

“Everyone lost all appliances and furniture. If you invest in 300 refrigerators and set up shop in another week I don't think you will be able to keep up with demand. This affected the entire city! Chokoloskee and Plantation Key are worse.”

Dave said a friend named Paul, an expert at gutting and restoring houses, will help them to put their place back together: That makes a nice ending, doesn’t it? Yes, but I like even better what Dave said about the ruined appliances, furniture and other goods he left piled on the swale: “I am more fortunate than most. It’s only stuff.”

Feedback: witzfish@att.net.