Everglades City update: The reality, the support and how you can help

FEMA sending RVs to Collier County to house those displaced by Hurricane Irma

Greg Stanley
Marco Eagle

“My memories of Irma in Everglades City will be the piles of trash, families’ possessions tragically drowned by the flooding, and the noise from power washers getting out horrible silty mud from low-lying buildings, especially local businesses trying to start up again and provide employment,” said Marya Repko, a resident.

“And, of course, the wonderful volunteers who cooked food for us, brought supplies, and set up a free laundry. We had so much support from all around the state and even further.”

Volunteers from FSU, mostly from St. Pete, cooked hotdogs/hamburgers on Sept 14, just a few days after storm.

 As Mayor Howie Grimm, whose optimism belies his last name, said, “we’re tough and we’ll come out of this even better than we were before”.

Collier County is expected to receive its first batch of FEMA traveling trailers by Saturday for those displaced by Hurricane Irma, local emergency operations officials said.

It's still unclear how many in Collier will receive or where the Federal Emergency Management Agency will send the recreational vehicles, almost a month after Irma destroyed more than 100 homes in Everglades City, Immokalee and other rural and coastal corners of the county.

Mobile trailer homes dot the island of Chokoloskee, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2017.
Homes scheduled for demolition after sustaining irreparable damage from Hurricane Irma sit at Fisherman's Cove Mobile Home Park on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Everglades City, Fla.

FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers will provide RVs, what FEMA calls traveling trailers, in batches, said Dan Summers, director of the county emergency operations center.

"This won't be like after Hurricane Charley, where they set up a huge wave of 100 trailers at once," Summers said.

The RVs are expected to be brought down in groups of about 20, he said. They'll be staged at the Naples airport until FEMA can qualify residents and decide where to put them.

"The good news is that we've been told the inventory has already been bought and, as the need arises, they have the ability to purchase more quickly off the lot and get them here without any lag time," Summers said.

RVs might prove to be more flexible than traditional FEMA trailers. They can easily be hooked up to water, sewer and power lines.

Many in Everglades City and Collier County hope they can be parked in the driveway or front lawn of a destroyed home. But that remains to be seen, Summers said.

"We just don’t know the limitations on where these can go yet," he said. "They may have to be put in an existing RV park or may not be allowed in a flood zone."

Rod Pascual, 88, washes mud from his driveway in Fisherman's Cove Mobile Home Park Tuesday, October 3, 2017 in Everglades City, Fla. A significant number of Pascual's neighbors homes are condemned to be torn down, demoed due to damage from Hurricane Irma. Pascual, along with his three sons, ripped out all of the insulation and duct work inside his home. "Been here 30 years," Pascual said. "It's gonna take some time but we're gonna get it."
Crews work to clear trash and debris outside of Fisherman's Cove Mobile Home Park along Copeland Avenue Tuesday, October 3, 2017 in Everglades City, Fla.
Crystal Holler consolidates the remaining leftover trash in her front yard as dump trucks continue to haul off roadside trash along her street Tuesday, October 3, 2017 in Chokoloskee, Fla.

The program's parameters will be outlined in the next few days, he said.

Everglades City wasted no time in preparing for the RVs. The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow RVs to be parked in front lawns for up to a year as people repair or rebuild their homes.

At least 70 families are going to need them in the small fishing town and its neighboring communities of Chokoloskee and Plantation Island, Mayor Howie Grimm said.

hat includes people who don't think they need temporary housing but might find they do, Grimm said.

"They're trying to save their places, but I think they're going to find out with this 50 percent rule that they can't," Grimm said.

FEMA has a rule that if repairs cost a homeowner more than 50 percent of the value of the home, that home loses its grandfathered status and has to be brought up to date with all elevation, flood-proofing and hurricane codes. With some of the trailers in Everglades City valued at about $36,000, it won't take much for many with flood or wind damage to hit that 50 percent mark, Grimm said.

"I think a lot of people are going to find out that they need a new place," he said.

FEMA spokesman Mike Wade said he couldn't say when the first batch of RVs will arrive or how many residents have qualified for them.

Another tropical depression was brewing in the Caribbean Sea on Wednesday and was forecast to possibly hit the central Gulf Coast of Florida on Sunday, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane. Consequently, the deployment of the RVs might be delayed, Wade said.

How to help

If you want to contribute to Everglades City recovery, visit ReachOutEverglades.org. Alternatively, you can send a check with Irma on the memo line to Reach Out Everglades, P.O. Box 894, Chokoloskee, FL, 34138. Reach Out Everglades, our neighborhood charity, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity so your donation will be tax-deductible and your support will be appreciated  by those in our community who most need help to resume normal life.

Staff contributed to this report.