I live in Florida on the east coast, near the shoreline, and have been through one recent hurricane. It was Hurricane Irma, an extremely powerful hurricane that caused widespread destruction in September 2017. Irma was a category 5 and at the time it was considered the most powerful hurricane on record in the open Atlantic region and the third strongest Atlantic hurricane at landfall ever recorded. If you recall Irma hit within two months of Harvey hitting Texas. The two exposed a deep void in the capacity of insurance adjusters in the US to timely handle one large catastrophe let alone two. But it spawned the use of advanced technology such as drones and satellite imagery which are in heavy use now.
After being glued to the TV watching the news on hurricane Ian everyone knows living on a coastline in the US comes with risks. Many of the shoreline communities in Florida are at sea-level and that means that ANY storm that has a surge of any height over sea level can be catastrophic. This also includes east coast Florida communities you may know by name such as Miami and Delray. The level of catastrophe gets magnified with every foot above sea-level the surge gets. In the case of Ian, they had predicted upwards of 12-18 feet of storm surge, thank god it never got that high but look what it did at just half that height.
On Wednesday September 28th Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida. I have many friends on the west coast with my very best friend near ground zero in Punta Gorda and others in Naples and Tampa. I will start off by saying all are ok, they made it through physically unscathed but emotionally they are all very disheartened. I kept in touch with all my friends on the west coast as reception would allow and hosted a family at my house who had evacuated from the west coast. To provide some insight into the power of this storm, my house is located a bit less than 200 miles from the west coast shoreline, directly across the state from Punta Gorda and we experienced heavy rain and wind gust up to 60 miles an hour.
Those of my friends that stayed in their homes did not live in ocean front property and felt fairly confident they could ride out the storm as did thousands of others. By the time the eye of the storm went over Punta Gorda I was able to connect with my friend to tell him to stay in the house as the worst was yet to come. He was very nervous, and he described hearing his roof shingles peeling away in the 130-150 mile and hour winds. He had described hearing the roofing nails being pulled out of the plywood underlayer of the roof. Once that happened the rain, which was dropping at about 3 inches per hour, made its path into the house and was coming in everywhere it could, from behind walls and out of a/c vents and ceiling light sockets. Since all of my friends in both Punta Gorda and Naples where without power from about the time the storm hit land, I was watching the news continuously and providing them with texted updates.
By the next day, Thursday September 29th, all were able to open hurricane shutters and inspect the damage. My friends in Naples were lucky, no damage, just lost power. In Punta Gorda, my friend with the roof damage, his power is expected to be out for 2-4 weeks and maybe longer as some of the substations were destroyed. For my friends In Tampa, power was out but restored by Sunday. I asked my friend in Punta Gorda what I could do for him and his family since the whole county was without power, he asked for a cooler, ice, and all the roofing supplies I could find. I headed to Home Depot in Jupiter FL and bought all the roofing tarps, nails, sealing tape and furring strips to tac down the tarps that I could fit in my car. The surprising thing is I wasn’t the only one doing this. It was early morning, and many folks were doing the same thing, buy the time I left Home Depot almost all the tarps were gone.
I was going to attempt to make the drive across the state on Thursday, but we decided it would make more sense to wait another day to ensure more roadways to his place were passable.
On Friday September 30th, I departed in the morning for the trip across the state, not knowing what to expect but hoping for the best. As I got about a third of the way across, the traffic started to get heavy. The one lane roadway was filled with cars, electric company trucks, tree pruning company trucks and a variety of other vehicles all heading west. My guess is the traffic also included many who were returning for the first time after evacuating. As the traffic started to build so did the level of destruction as I got closer to the west coast. Fortunately, the middle of the state I was driving through was mostly cattle and horse country, so damage was mostly to trees and powerlines. However, as I got beyond about two-thirds through the state on the drive and started to hit some of the western communities the signs of an extreme event were everywhere. Power was out everywhere, gas stations and grocery stores were closed, roads were filled with debris, powerlines and the poles they sat on were down everywhere. I passed a number of trailer and RV parks and it reminded me of how my son would pile up his toy cars on top of each other, RV’s were tipped over or on top of each other and trailer park homes had roofs torn off or were flipped, some were definitely more lucky than others.
As I got close to my friend’s place, where the houses were made of cinderblock walls, the level of destruction was significant. Almost every yard I passed had some level of devastation, but mostly it was roof and tree/plant damage, fortunately I did not see any homes that had collapsed. As I made my way closer to my destination, some roads were closed due to flooding and some were washed away. When I finally made it to my final destination, my friend came out to greet me with a hug, he looked exhausted but was happy some help had arrived and was ready to start covering the roof. It was almost unfathomable to think that only 5 days earlier we were celebrating his youngest daughter’s wedding in Connecticut.
Before climbing up to the roof he walked me through the house to show me all the locations where the water had been pouring in. He and his wife had literally just gotten through a complete interior renovation of the home, so he was pretty stressed over the amount of water damage but expressed his good fortune of not being the part of the community that was caught in the storm surge. In a testament to the speed of the wind there was a piece of someone’s asphalt roof imbedded into his gutter downspout, cut it like a knife through butter.
We unloaded the supplies from the car and headed up to the roof to start covering all the exposed areas with tarp. I had bought the biggest tarps Home Depot sold which were 30’x 50’ and then other smaller sizes for smaller areas. While on top of the roof I looked around and for as far as I could see every home had some sort of damage. It was an emotional moment to take in just knowing what these people went through during the peak of the hurricane. We continued to work and stopped when the sun started to go down.
On Saturday October 1st we started back up and once finished spoke to neighbors who needed help and assisted covering their roofs. By mid-day there were contractors going around neighborhoods with U-Hauls full of tarps saying they could cover roofs, but they were charging $2,000 to put on just one 30’ x 50’ tarp, and most houses need more. I had bought the same tarps for $150 at Home Deport, so the contractors (if they were even licensed contractors, who knows) were out to take advantage of people in distress, smelling opportunity and praying on desperation. This type of thing happens each time there is a natural disaster somewhere. Contractors, and non-contractors will be coming in from in and out of state and some, not all, taking advantage of the people by exponentially up-charging for their services.
On Sunday October 2nd, we drove around a bit. Power was out everywhere; they were told it could be upwards of a month before it was restored. The one grocery store in the area (Publix) had generators but the selves were completely bare, and they were not sure when they would be replenished. There were food trucks in the parking lot at the local Walmart selling sandwiches and assorted other items with long lines.
After seeing how decimated the infrastructure is it just got me thinking about those trying to help and what that challenge would be like. As I mentioned earlier, everyone is descending on the impacted areas to help but without power, where do they sleep and where do they eat? Until power is restored it will limit the speed in which recovery can be done.
To my surprise my friend in Punta insurance adjuster said they would be out later this week. I thought that was pretty quick given the size and magnitude of the destruction in the state. He and I talked about what happens after he gets the claim check. His house needs a new roof, new sheet rock for the ceiling and walls and new flooring (he has wood floors). The challenge is so do thousands of others, and the ones near the shoreline need even more. This will be a multi-year recovery for the west part of Florida, and in some places, it may take closer to a decade to fully recover. My guess for by buddy was to anticipate it could be 6-12 months or possibly more before he would be able to get licensed contractors to do all the work.
The storm impact to this area is amazing, and I write this to tell you as bad as it looks on TV its is so much worse in person. The sheer logistics of coordinating recovery is unimaginable. The industry we work in plays such a critical road in the recovery and the claims check is a great starting point but the journey of rebuilding and emotional recovery for these folks is going to be very very long.