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Businesses step up to help hard-hit, still suffering island

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One thing about hurricanes, they do tend to bring people and communities together.

“It’s an ill wind that blows no good,” according to the old saying, and it’s hard to imagine a more ill wind than Hurricane Irma. But the folks on Isles of Capri have come together to recover from the storm, taking care of each other when it seemed the attention of the outside world was elsewhere.

On Tuesday evening, well over 100 Capri residents literally came together for a community-wide open house, gathering outside the Capri Realty office for an informal block party, days after holding a similar gathering at the Capri Fish House. The gatherings gave many of the islanders, still without electric power, their first chance to enjoy some hot food since Irma blew through.

“All I’ve been eating is tuna fish and peanut butter,” said Howard Sloan. “I had my first cup of coffee two days ago. The only real meals we’ve had were at Capri Fish House and now here.” As he spoke, he was devouring a plate of chicken quesadillas, refried beans and Mexican rice, all donated by Margarita’s restaurant in the Marco Town Center on Marco Island.

Margarita’s owners Ismail and Diana Perez fed all comers, with Ismail manning the grill and turning out at endless series of quesadillas, while Diana served the plates with a smile, and filled “to go” orders for people who couldn’t get there.

Along with the hot food, islanders enjoyed complimentary cold treats donated by Orange Leaf frozen yogurt shop owner Aura Coppola, and ice-cold beer and soft drinks provided by Capri Realty principals Jeri Neuhaus and Jean LeFebvre. The event was organized by captains Nancy Anderson and Otis Tavlin, who have a boat charter business on the island. Their “Thunderbird,” a 40-ft. trimaran, sustained damage in the storm, but they hope to have her back in shape before the tourist season picks up in earnest with the new year.

Along with their neighbors, they enjoyed getting together after sweating together, working to clear local roads and make impromptu repairs. Anderson said she had been impressed by the sense of community she saw in Capri’s reaction to the storm.

“A group of people would clear one yard, and then just move on to the next one,” she said. “We’ve been pretty much on our own. The media focuses on the bigger communities – it seems like Capri doesn’t get mentioned.”

Longtime resident Jim Hughes said he had gone through Hurricane Andrew (1992), Wilma in 2005, and now Irma.

“I’m sleeping in 90-degree weather, with no fridge. It’s just the price we pay to live in paradise.”

Tracy Carmignani said she lost a banyan tree that had shaded her whole yard, but was down on the ground.

“Five guys with chain saws cut it up, and got it out to the street in about 15 minutes,” she said. “I don’t even know who they were.”

Some people came 1,000 miles to help out. Winter resident John de Marco came down from New Jersey with his friend John Thomas, loading up a truck with 180 cases of water, four chain saws and three generators. The volunteer efforts, he said, helped some locals avoid being gouged by fly-by-night profiteers.

“Someone wanted $12,000 to clean up a yard, but we did it in seven hours,” said de Marco.

Greater Naples fire chief Kingman Schuldt came by with a group of his local firefighters, and said they had been extremely busy since the storm, and were glad for the break. His territory also includes Everglades City and Chokoloskee, where some of the worst damage has been incurred.

On Isles of Capri, said Tavlin, “it seems the east side of the island took the biggest hit. There’s one dock there that’s just splintered – but our damage is repairable.”

As the residents enjoyed the quesadillas and conversation on Tuesday evening, the most welcome sight of all was evident on the road leading into the community – a fleet of utility vehicles, stringing power lines and replacing downed electric poles.

 

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