Everglades City overrun by water from Irma(w/video)

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Published September 11 2017
Updated September 11 2017

EVERGLADES CITY — The water here gives.

Stone crabs, airboat rides, picturesque afternoons for the tourists that descend each year.

But Sunday, it took. For many here, it took almost everything.

Hurricane Irma blew up the southwest Florida coast and lashed Everglades City like few other places.

"The water came up," said June Robinson, 57. "And it came up fast."

The wind ripped shingles from roofs, sent shards of palm trees flying over the grass.

"It almost looked like a jet engine taking off when the gusts would come through," said Robinson's 30-year-old son, McCloud.

Monday morning, the road out to Everglades City was still impassable for anything but a big truck. Collier Avenue, the main drag, remained under knee-deep water. Fish swam over the asphalt. The water lapped against the doors of mobile homes.

People said it reached 4 or 5 feet at the height of the surge. It still rode up to the top of their knee-high boots Monday morning.

It left an inch of mud caked on the lower level of Ron Ouellette's home.

"(The storm) would come as a hammer and just snap a tree as if it were a twig," he said.

"It was like buckets of water on the corner of the house," said his partner, Marlene Sassaman.

They waded through the floodwaters Friday, taking pictures — and stock of their neighbors, who had already begun cleaning up.

"It's going to take a lot of work," Ouellette said. "But the spirit is there."

Everglades City, its residents say, is a special place.

"There's a lot of heart in this town, and to see it in this state, it's gut-wrenching," said McCloud Robinson.

His mother rode out the storm in her niece's apartment, watching out the window as Irma destroyed her own home. She had saved her grandson and mom's ashes, some baby pictures and clothes. Everything else was gone.

McCloud had yet to even see his home Monday morning, farther west in Chokoloskee, also devastated.

But the mother and son said they would recover, with a chip on their shoulder. The national news stations they watched cover the storm barely even mentioned the Everglades, they said.

"CNN said it was okay for it to hit the Everglades because there's nobody down there," June Robinson recalled.

"We'll always be here," she said. "We'll be back."

Thomas Schramm, 52, rode out the storm in Golden Gate but slept only two hours, anxious about his home. At dawn Monday, he sat in his truck with his wife, Olga Pereira, and dog, Klauss, at the end of a flooded Route 29.

"There's nothing you can do," he said. "Just wait for the tide to come down."

He looked at the road, covered in steel-gray saltwater. Disoriented shorebirds took refuge on small islands of asphalt.

The family lives in Chokoloskee. Friends who stayed behind sent them videos of the storm, the surge of water pushing up to door handles. Here, just about every neighborhood is low-lying.

Schramm said his home was wrecked by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

"I'm just now getting done cleaning that stuff up," he said.

TJ Weeks, 65, said he rode out the storm in an old school building in Everglades City, where he has a workshop.

The wind, he said, was the most terrifying part.

"The racket, it's unmistakable," he said. "It goes to howling and screeching. It goes to cutting around corners of the building."

After the winds eased, he said, he went back inland to check his mobile home in the swamp. By the time he tried to go back into town Sunday, he said, the water had blocked the road. Same thing Monday.

"This is probably the biggest airboat tourist business there is," he said. "Right now we're aching a little, but we'll be back."

Some people probably lost their homes, said Weeks, 65, and they likely don't have insurance. But, he said, they'll rally.

"Everglades is going to survive," he said. "It always does."

He shifted his 4x4 into drive and tried to ford the floodwaters as it began to rain.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow @ZackSampson.

           
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