SARASOTA COUNTY, Fl. — The reality of storm recovery is hard to describe. Seeing the damage on television and social media may be striking, but living it is an emotional and traumatizing journey.
“All we can do right now is just pick up the pieces,” said Luke Quave, a resident of Port Charlotte, Florida.
Our team spent a week covering Hurricane Ian, and we met families who shared their struggles and stories of survival. Mother Shannon Terry swam across her street with her daughters on her back after her house flooded. Her neighbor whom she’d never spoken to before took her family in.
Now, there are more than 10 strangers living in one house with no water, power or internet.
“I feel helpless, and as a mother with kids, that’s not a good feeling,” said Shannon Terry, a North Port Florida resident.
In many cases across North Port and Port Charlotte, there are seven, eight, and sometimes more than 10, people living in one house without a working toilet. The smell leaves no doubt.
There’s also no air conditioning, so the smell of mildew and rot is overwhelming. People are doing the best they can, but they are trapped.
“We didn't tell you about the menagerie of animals in there that don't all get along,” said Brenda Lopez after she shared that the house she is staying in has two families bunking together. “So, we've got all these doors locked and pans and feedings and it's just, you know, we all need our own homes.”
Signs of struggle, both big and small, are everywhere. We saw a man who tied his vehicle to his house in hopes of keeping it from floating away.
Without working internet, applying for aid from FEMA or other programs is impossible. So much is impossible.
“We're stuck here. There's no water, no roads. No electricity. You know what I mean? You’re just stuck,” said Lopez.
Yet, there is also a building sense of hopefulness. People are helping strangers, opening their homes, lending their boats, clothes, and money.
Luke Quave was one of those helpers.
“I'm just cruisin’ through the neighborhood to see if there's anybody I can help. Anything I can do for anybody at this point, because I think everybody needs that right now,” said Quave.
Quave is the neighbor we all hope we’d have. When his neighbor’s roof collapsed in the middle of the storm, he set out, crawling on his hands and knees to rescue them.
“Yeah, I literally, the wind the wind was so strong that I had to literally, like, get on all fours and grip the grass like this,” said Quave.
His neighbors are still staying with him now. His kindness is what we saw on every corner. People in Southwest Florida reminded us they may have nothing material, but to be alive after this storm was all that mattered.