New town is a wreck and Pollyanna is in a coma. Neighbors have piled their belongings on the sidewalk. All of their belongings: carpets, sofas, appliances, dressers, mattresses, pictures, boxes of stuff. Cars line the streets, cars that used to run. It ain’t pretty. We are pretty overwhelmed here, just beginning to assess the damage. People are tired. I am tired just looking at it and I have nothing in the street except a mattress.
Today is Saturday 10/29. You see streets and streets lined with people’s stuff. It wears on a body. My neighborhood behind Publix, the entire neighborhood behind Kmart, the one across from the high school, Riviera Drive homes, basically everything on the Miami side of White Street up to Big Pine. In Marathon, our airplane was totaled after sitting chest deep in water… so it seems pretty certain that Big Pine suffered as well.
One to two inches of water ran thru our house, didn’t sit, just soaked the rugs and ran out or dried up before we got home. Our rugs are all hanging over the 6′ high chain link fence surrounding our yard. I never thought I’d be happy to have a 6′ high chain link fence. Ever. But there you go. It was all part of some master plan, this chain link fence…
Our street is littered with debris from our immediate neighbors. I was looking out my front window earlier, watching Patria and Jorge across the street carry more stuff to the sidewalk (yes, a week later, more and more stuff is piling up). They smile and wave. Sit for a minute on their porch, then go get more stuff. We have survivor guilt.
Wilma surprised us all. The flood maps have been warning us, telling us this was bound to happen once every 100 years or so, but we look at our yards in disbelief: "heck, we never get a puddle in a Big Big Rain." As if that meant something. Even the old conchs, older than me, born and raised here, have never seen anything like this. The water came three and four feet deep over N Roosevelt Blvd, across Captain Bob’s parking lot, over Niles’ parking lot, into our neighborhood and thru it to Flagler Ave…. which apparently got to enjoy two surges. On Big Coppitt, the water was 6′ deep from the ground up. On Key Haven, friends got into boats with their children and motored over two sections to a neighbor’s stilt home. I’m sure it was a sight to behold and I’m forever grateful I wasn’t here to see it.
Kmart is closed, Rainbow, Sears, Office Max, Albertsons, Radio Shack… Some of my friends lost everything and watched it happen. The funny thing, well not funny really, about a flood is that you think "oh this toaster (car, central ac, whatever) is ok, it’s working" and then two days later it’s not ok or not working or catches fire when you turn it on. So you don’t stop assessing damage in your house for days. No washers, no dryers – that’s hard. Clothes are wet, salty, only 3 laundromats in Key West… No mattresses, sleeping on the floor or on a sofa that smells like fish. Hal is cooking dinner now – most of my friends and neighbors don’t have a stove, a fridge, hot water heater… the basics. The appliance stores – Reed, Kohlage, Sears – were swamped as well so no new appliances in town yet. Today is the first day the grocery stores have gotten deliveries. Fresh lettuce never looked so good.
People here are amazing. We haven’t hit the wall yet, still more reality to come. But everyone is pitching in and making do. My neighbors are in the street now, talking and laughing at 10pm on Saturday night… The tourists are still coming, they want to be here. The weather has been equally amazing: cool, breezy, sunny. If you have to empty your house onto the lawn, you want this weather. I wore a sweatshirt all day today.
Last night we went down to sunset. We haven’t done that in years but figured, hey, we’d pretty much be alone. Will Soto was there and we went right over and plopped down, eager to be entertained. HE is amazing, so so SO funny. We laughed and laughed, saw a gorgeous sunset, had a much needed break from the stress. Highly recommended!
My housekeeper Renata’s husband, Greg, is in Iraq. She emailed him pictures of the storm water, the streets lined with debris, the trees without leaves and said "isn’t this awful?" He wrote back "It is beautiful. It is green and beautiful. THIS [Baghdad] is awful."
Wilma brought disaster, but she was no Katrina. No Superdome, no gunfire, no attic tragedies, no abandoned pets, no looting. So far it looks like most of us will dry off and continue on. As my friend Gil pointed out while Wilma was passing his beach house in Rhode Island delaying his return to his Key West home which suffered quite a bit of damage: "All god’s children done got troubles." In a few weeks, we will have a handle on Wilma’s wake, the surprises will stop – that will be welcome. For now, it seems we are damp but not drowned. Write back, send love and prayers.