Thursday, November 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

A suitcase of photos: Tarpon Springs father waits on Irma with dread

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PALM HARBOR — With an extra pair of pants and a couple of shirts stuffed in a trash bag, the Rev. James Warren put what was most valuable in an old green suitcase before leaving home.

The yellowed photo of him and his son posing in matching suits and black fedoras. The one of the boy grinning in church clothes a decade earlier.

It had been just the two of them in the old house by the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs for the past 10 years. It's where the boy, Brandon, grew into the 17-year-old honors student and college football prospect he is now.

Warren didn't have the money for plywood to board up the windows of his house before evacuating to Palm Harbor University High School.

And while he brought his Bible to pass the time, on Saturday Warren, 57, couldn't get his mind off the roof that needed replacing years ago.

"If that Anclote River backs up, it's going to wipe us out," Warren said through tears. "We're going to be homeless. This is a nightmare. I've been in Florida all my life and never had to leave."

At first Warren wondered what he did wrong to bring on Hurricane Irma.

But thinking of all the ugliness in the world — the shootings, the hatred, the injustice — he wondered if God wasn't trying to prove something.

"People have been so ugly, God is angry," he said. "Now look around here. He made everybody lay next to each other. Black, white, Hispanic."

The classrooms were packed nearly 20 people apiece, with mattresses, blankets and pillows lined up on the carpet. Brandon stretched out on a mattress Saturday afternoon wearing headphones, with a psychology textbook closed beside him.

Strangers whispered so their neighbors could sleep. Some read or made small talk.

Warren called the elderly couple beside him family, after a day of trying to communicate with them. They spoke broken English.

He said he does not have any idea what he'll do if he returns to Tarpon Springs after Irma to a destroyed home.

Without insurance, already living off disability and food stamps, Warren feared what the hurricane's wake would mean for his son's chances to get to college.

"I don't know if we'll have a house," Warren said. "I just can't believe this."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

 
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