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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Helicopters, generators, and sirens, oh, my!

Those are the sounds that lull us to sleep and the sounds that wake us.

Instead of finding official volunteer positions, forget trying to get any helpful information from the Red Cross or FEMA, the girls and I drove up Highway 17 towards Arcadia yesterday with a truckload of supplies. We figured the agricultural areas would be a mess. We were right. Both cities of Punta Gorda and Arcadia are fairly organized as far as assistance goes, but the little rural spots in between have been nearly forgotten.

The people in town who have lost their homes are in for a tough time but have plenty of help available. The people who have lost their beach houses don’t garner a whole lot of sympathy. The migrants out in the little farm towns are pitiful. There are no supplies and no shelters. We arrived in the tiny town of Nocatee to check on neighbors from the island, who have their family farmhouse and orange groves there. Their house was about the only one standing. They found a generator and were planning to sit tight because looting has begun to be a problem. We dropped off some of our stash with them and then decided to leave the rest at a small gas station in town that had become a makeshift donation center.

Key Largo Fire Department and people from all over the state had stumbled onto this little spot in the road. Several people from our area were like us, knowing that the residents of this area had most likely been overlooked. A church group had taken the responsibility of guarding the goods from thieves looking to steal and resell supplies. When I mentioned seeing a National Guard truck driving through a nearby trailer park, the man we were speaking to said the Guardsmen had come by the gas station looking for food and water for themselves, they had no supplies of their own. After we dropped a pallet of drinking water and several cases of tuna fish and Vienna sausages, we continued on to the Arcadia Wal-Mart which was operational. We picked up some insect repellent, sunscreen, propane, and boxes of applesauce and pear puree in snack-sized containers. Also Oreos, that’s what I’d want someone to bring me, and half a carton of cigarettes (the other half was a surprise for a neighbor.) The girls wanted to buy everything in sight. What they really need now is bedding and tarps or tents for shelter because they are living in the collapsed houses, so I’m going to collect whatever odds and ends we have lying around here and make another trip over.

The groves and fields are ruined, so besides losing their homes and belongings, they have also lost their source of employment. Sad, sad, sad.


Our water came back on today, although I’m sure we’re not supposed to be drinking it. It was nice to rinse off the dirty dishes that have been sitting in the sink since the 13th. Power is back on at the island and since we have a well, we have water out there too. This evening we’ll head back to Fort Lauderdale, pick up our youngest from my parents', and gather some more supplies. Tomorrow we will return to the island, using that as our base until the power comes back on at the Punta Gorda house.

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