2004: Hurricane report, from Cathy Bupp

The letter below is from Cathy Bupp, who survived the Florida hurricanes of 2004. Cathy is a licensed clinical social worker, working as a medical social worker at a medical center in Florida. Because of that, she has a wide-view perspective of what has happened to her part of the world.  

Here is Cathy's letter:

I've only been down here in Florida for a little over a year and a half.  I love the weather down here most of the time, as we almost always have sunshine and a blue sky.

Of the four hurricanes, Central Florida got hit with three of them. After a while, it gets confusing trying to figure out which one caused what damage.  Many areas were hit twice, and the destruction is devastating.  We are among the 19 counties down here that have been declared a disaster area. It is truly unbelievable.

There are still over 1 million people without any kind of power in this heat in the high 80's and low 90's.  Water has been contaminated in many areas, with sewage backing up into homes from all the flooding.  The elderly have no place to go except to shelters.  The welfare food lines and water lines are constantly full.  Building and roofing supplies are scarce due to the damage, and the cost of supplies and labor has skyrocketed.

People are playing the waiting game of when they can even get someone out to their home to do the repairs.  Because of all the insurance claims, insurance companies are requiring all the work to be done by licensed contractors, which is making everything down here even more messy.  In other words, a friend or brother can't come down here to help you put on a new roof  because the friend or brother isn't licensed in Florida and you have to get a building permit with your Florida license.  So....... Construction is months out there.  Also, insurance companies are really socking it to everything with outrageous deductibles or lack of coverage due to damage being an act of God, or most of us don't carry hurricane coverage because we are not a hurricane prone area.  It cost my neighbor $4,000 just to take down the tree that fell on his shed.  As for the shed, the tree falling was an act of God.  As for the tree falling on anything, it was caused by the hurricane and falls under another act of God because he, like most of us, doesn't carry coverage for something that our area is not subjected to.  We don't live in a flood zone, so we don't carry extra for flooding, etc.

The beaches are gone, literally gone!  Some of the beaches from Coca Beach up to Daytona have been totally destroyed with water now coming up to and into the nice luxury homes and the sand literally drug out to sea. The flooding is horrible with water that has no where to go.  The towns have been frantically pumping out the water from low areas where people cannot even get to their homes.  Water damage is everywhere.  They say the damage so far has reached 20 billion $ in government aid -- the most destruction ever seen in this area or anywhere in the history of the U.S. from natural forces.

As for where I live, I am very fortunate.  The people on the lake had water crashing up over the sea wall, and all of our yards looked like ponds. Our pool flooded over during this last hurricane (we didn't lower it enough), and we were out there in the wild winds and horizontal rain using everything we could find to divert it from coming into the house.  One-half inch more and we would have had some nasty water damage.

Our yards looked like a war zone.  Several neighbors had their 75-foot oaks literally uprooted; power lines and poles were down everywhere, making for a deadly combination with the sitting water.  My neighbor's 75-foot oak came crashing down on his new shed, missing our enclosed pool by about 10 feet.  It would have landed directly into the lanai and the pool had it fallen a little in the other direction.  We had multiple palms down in the streets, making it virtually impossible to get in or out of our yard.  Trees were down on several homes in my area; trees were down on cars, and huge branches were everywhere.  And of course, we all sat in the dark with the power out, while the winds were a good 85 to 105 miles an hour.

During this last hurricane, we even had the neighbor's pool screens, bird houses, and awnings in our yard from way down the block.  We lost some shingles off the roof again, and one window cracked.  We almost put the boat under the neighbor's tree, but decided just to leave it in the driveway at the last minute where it had sustained the last two hurricanes.  That was the neighbor who lost his tree and his shed next door.

This last hurricane, Jeanne, was a repeat of hurricanes Ivan and Charlie.  We just got cleaned up from the last one, and then got dumped on again.  A lot of people never got their area cleaned up from the first one and had to be concerned about more water, flooding, and flying branches and debris.  Branches and debris become big torpedoes with those winds.  People have sand, mud, fish, and insects swimming around in their living rooms, etc.  There is a big mosquito concern from all the standing water, along with the West Nile Virus.  We have been told not to swim in the ocean for at least a month due to nails, boards, and debris in the sand and the water.

That has just been in our area.  On farther down the East Coast and up to Daytona, they also got some bad tornadoes with nasty damage.  Entire mobile home parks have been completely destroyed both on the East Coast down by Miami and the Keys, and on the Gulf side down in Punta Gorda up to Tampa.

Our daily newspaper and TV news is constantly reporting on the damage, where to go for food and shelter, and most recently, a couple of surrounding countries have set up places for people to come and take a shower.

I work in a hospital rehab. center, and we opened up a 36-bed shelter on the first floor for the medically needy -- patients needing oxygen, with feeding tubes, etc. -- for the past three hurricanes.  People stayed for 3 to 5 days because they couldn't get back to their homes.  That was another problem: If you left your home because you were told to evacuate from either your mobile home or a manufactured home, many people couldn't get back to their homes due to trees and electrical lines down, flooding, damage, etc. I feel very fortunate that our home weathered these events, and we had no major damage.

Just driving to work is a constant reminder of what other people are dealing with in our own neighborhoods, and our area escaped the most damaging destruction.  People are constantly driving around looking at what happened, like when we have tornadoes up north and people are out sight-seeing.  It's too devastating down here to sight-see as we get bombed with it on TV every waking hour that the news is on.  Idiots were out driving and walking down by the lake where we live right after the hurricanes hit to sight-see.  Lines were down in the water across the street, fallen trees blocked the streets, and still these idiots drove up into your lawn to drive around the trees in the road.

We were outside several times yelling at people who wanted to drive through our horse-shoe drive out front to avoid the oak and palm trees laying in the street to sight-see on down the block which was blocked with more fallen trees in the street and lines from poles.  We even had to threaten to call the police due to people wanting to drive around to see the damage down by the lake, as we got hit pretty hard.  People would actually get mad when we made them back up down the street and turn around rather then use our driveway.  We eventually had to hammer pipes into the end of the yard around the entire corner and put all of our own debris at each end of our horseshoe drive so people would not tear up our already disastrous yard and drive over our in-ground sprinklers or use our front driveway as a drive through or a turn around.  I think all the wackos must have come out following each hurricane.

Lots of other things were affected by these hurricanes:   Mental health centers were going crazy -- sorry for the pun.  Working in the field, I saw psychotic patients who couldn't handle the stressors; there has been a traumatic increase in domestic violence, abuse, stealing, drinking and drugging.    We saw a traumatic increase of elderly people going into hospitals and skilled care facilities; there wasn't a bed to be found.  They had patients lined up in the ER hallways due to not having any available beds.    Infections have gone off the wall with people walking around in their flooded homes with scrapes or sores.  Diabetic patients get more difficult infections when exposed to walking in sewage or filthy water or soaked carpets in their home or around their yard trying to clean up some of the mess.    People have fallen off their roofs and out of trees trying to do the work themselves; some have died and others are now paralyzed in spinal units of hospitals. We've seen an increase in heart attacks from overdoing, especially amongst the elderly who have no one down here to help them clean up.

FEMA, the government agency handling all the funding, isn't working fast enough to get people into new homes, forcing a multiple of people to live in their damaged homes with caved in roofs, etc.  Many people have not heard anything from FEMA for over a month and have no money, no clothes, or shelter.  Churches are jumping in as are other city community centers, but we are talking about thousands of people, not a couple of church members that need help. Many people have lost their jobs because the place where they once worked was destroyed.  Tourism is really down, hurting many places of employment in the tourism industry.

The damage goes on and on in multiple areas of people's lives.  They say it will take about 10 years to recover from all this devastation; to restore our beaches and our communities to how they once were.

On a more positive note, now that the hurricanes are gone, we are back to beautiful weather in Florida.  It is also a wonderful experience to see people helping each other; the giving of time, money, foods, clothes, supplies, and assistance in cleaning up yards, etc. has been overwhelming and forthcoming in all communities.

I know there are other classmates who live in Florida; I hope they are doing well also.

Cathy (Bupp) Lambert

Cathy Lambert, L.C.S.W., B.C.H.
Medical Social Worker
Ohme Rehab. Center