Three months after Irma, recovery still slow in Everglades City
The hope in Everglades City is for things to be normal, or close to it, by the new year.
That's the target date for the county to wrap up its massive debris hauling operation and have curbsides cleared of downed trees, twisted metal and broken possessions. And that's when restaurants and tour guides hope customers — fewer of them since the storm — will come back.
But those who lost their homes and have spent the last three months trying to weave through a tangled web of insurers, federal loans and federal aid still can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.
By the numbers: 2017 was most expensive US hurricane season ever
"It seems like we're jumping through hoops constantly," said Carol Sykora, whose mobile home on Plantation Island was ruined by floodwaters.
Sykora's insurer offered her about $42,000 for damage to the home, just over half her $82,100 policy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied her and her husband's application for an SBA loan to cover the difference. Sykora is appealing that denial.
Part of the problem is it has proven nearly impossible to bring down a contractor to walk through the gutted home and give an estimate for what it would take to repair, Sykora said.
"They're all so busy or they don’t want to do mobile homes or we're just too far out for them," she said.
An estimate would be needed to total the home or help show FEMA how much the insurer has come up short.
Properties throughout the Everglades City area are pushing forward with repairs and rebuilding projects, said Karen Cochran, a resident who has helped round up volunteers to remove debris.
"We do see progress, but recovery is going to be a long process," Cochran said.
Some area restaurants and businesses are still closed for repairs. Others have been open since shortly after the storm.
Weekends have been as busy as ever, said Donna Hartman of the Havana Cafe.
"But we have had a big drop during the week," Hartman said. "I'm hoping that after Christmas we'll be back to normal."
The debris piles around the city have been getting smaller and smaller, she said.
"It's getting better every day," Hartman said.
The first couple of weeks of December are always a little slow for business in Everglades City, said Pam Hilton, one of the owners of Triad Seafood Market & Cafe.
The restaurant has been open since the stone crab season began Oct.15 and hasn't seen much of a dropoff in business compared to this time last year.
"It's been pretty normal," Hilton said. "After Christmas is when it picks up. I think it's looking very good."
The county is set to begin its final sweep to collect storm debris.
"This will be to get the larger stumps and things we couldn’t get the first time or have been brought out since we've been down the street," said Margie Hapke, county spokeswoman. "We're hoping to have everything substantial complete by the first of the year. There will still be leaners and hangers and hotspots to take care of, but most of the streets will be clean."