Tuesday, October 13, 2009


On Monday, September 25, 1989 hurricane Isabel hit Southeast Florida. The 3700 block of Orchid Lane in Edenville was destroyed--63 homes reduced to piles of rubble.

When the homeowners, who had been evacuated before the storm made landfall, were permitted back into the neighborhood on Thursday, September 28th, they were accompanied by Loni Rogers, reporter from the Miami Coronet. She witnessed the shock, the disbelief, the first signs of overwhelming grief that was sweeping over the members of the 57 families that returned to that block of Orchid Lane (6 families did not return until sometime during the weeks after the storm--they had been warned of the devastation and delyed facing it for various reasons).

On that Thursday morning, Loni watched as each family approached the lot on which their home had existed and watched as they surveyd the bits and pieces of roof, walls, furniture, appliance, family pictures, rugs, twisted bicycles, mangled small sailboats, soggy bits of clothing. It appeared that everyone had lost almost everything.

The tableau that Loni saw an hour after the residents returned to the neighborhood mostly consisted of men, women and children sitting on the grass, or perhaps on a box or lawn chair. These people were generally staring at the ruins of what had been their houses and their lives, glassy eyed, sometimes tearful, speaking little or in hushed tones. A few people were standing or more frequently slowing circling near their homesites, also with somewht vacant stares and frequently with tears streaming down their faces.

Loni noticed in her first glance, that at one site, a woman was on a cell phone, speaking with apparent intensity and her husband was within the perimeter of the foundation of what had been their residence, and he seemed to be pulling out objects and sorting them into two piles.

Three hours later, when Loni returned to the 3700 block of Orchid Lane after surveying the general neighborhood in Edenville, she saw that what she had observed the couple doing at one fallen house, was now being repeated in various ways at 5 or 6 houses. At those former residences, people were talking on phones, sifting through debris, making piles, apparently to move from the site, to save, to discard. She noticed that some of these people were crying, even moaning as they encountered elements of their previous lives which had to be related to and reacted to in entirely new ways.

At the other home sites where families had returned, there was still mostly inactivity--people staring, people sitting, people wandering in a daze. There were more tears than before, and at some sites people were comforting one another. In some places, families seemed to be meeting near the boundaries of their lots and sharing their shocked disbelief with their neighbors and offering consolation to one another.

Loni went back to her office and filed her story, which appeared on the front page of the Coronet on Friday morning. She returned to Orchid Lane about mid-day and she saw greatly increased activity, in various stages at various homesites. In front of several lots, there were many cars and service vans--from insurance companies, building contractors, utility companies. Back hoes, loaders and even dump trucks were at one former house, already taking away some of the ruined house and unsalvageable contents. At other sites, people were just beginning the process of sorting through their wreckage and triaging their possessions from out of the chaos.

There were still lots where people were sitting, more of them on lawn chairs today, but some still on the grass, or wandering aimlessly about, still glassy eyed and unfocused in perception and inactive or aimless.

Loni filed a f0llow up story and the next day was assigned to write about a restaurant that had been badly damaged by the storm, but was now serving some of its customers using several propane powered camping stoves.

Two weeks later, Loni returned to Orchid Lane, and saw that there were signs of progress and recovery at probably 2/3 of the 63 destroyed home sites, in various stages. On two of the lots, the old houses had been totally cleared away and constructions machinery was excavating for new foundations.

There were still perhaps 15 sites, where little seemed to have happened and where one or two or more people were just sitting, usually in lawn chairs, perhaps talking among themselves, with little sign of movement or direction.

Loni went on to other stories and mostly forgot about Edenville and Orchid Lane. 10 years later, a friend of hers moved to Edenville and invited Loni and her husband to come for a barbecue on Sunday afternoon. When Loni drove past the small center of the town she remembered Orchid Lane and decided to swing by and see how the 3700 block had fared.

As their car approached the place where Loni had witnessed the aftermath of the storm and people's reaction to it, she was amazed. There was new houses all around, gardens and flowers as typical of this semi tropical climate, the usual evidences of outdoor life for adults and children--barbecue grills, bicycles, scooters, an occassional small sail boat or Kayak. It was hard to believe that this was the place where so much had been utterly destroyed and taken away.

Loni noticed one lot, where even from some distance, it was apparent that there was not a house. She drove closer and she recognized the couple sitting in two lawn chairs, in front of their former home, that still was a pile of rubble, little changed from the Thursday after the storm, only slightly more decayed and unsightly. Edith and John were sitting in their lawn chairs, an ice chest between them and he was drinking a beer, she a diet Coke.

Loni, got out of her car and approached the couple and when she asked them what had happened to their house, maintaining an assumed reportorial ignorance, Edith said, "Oh, we are victims of that Hurricane, it destroyed our lives." John added, "Yes, Isabel took everything from us. We have nothing left. We were ruined."

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