Today, will mark the beginning of a new blog series we’re starting, called “Stories from the Field.” While on the #yoamFL2018 trip, we made a point of starting relationships with people, really trying to understand them, not just touch their homes and move forward. We want you to be able to share in that experience; to realize for you what is really going on in the Florida Keys.
Given that yesterday the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church published an article about the Hurricane Irma recovery process and YOAM’s participation therein, it seems only fitting that our first story from the field be the one they printed, that of Chris Guarini. Read Ed Scott’s riveting retelling:
Like so many evacuees who could not seem to get out of the way of Hurricane Irma’s meandering path last September, Chris Guarini must have felt like she was always driving in the wrong direction.
When Irma began threatening the Florida Keys, Guarini first drove 48 miles from Marathon to Key West—into the eventual path of the storm—to purchase a pet carrier (gouging-priced at $140) for her cat, Kitty.
“The clouds were coming in. It was a little scary,” Guarini said, her understatement being a clear sign of her strength.
“I thought the storm was going to go to the west,” she said. “I had the place booked, and then I get there and there’s nothing to eat and they tell me I have to go back, with a cat that’s freaking out.”Guarini drove back to a deserted Marathon to help close up Kmart, where she works as a cashier, before leaving at midnight with Kitty and a friend headed for Savannah, Ga. They arrived 15 hours later only to find no lodging, food or gas available.
Guarini drove to South Carolina, where “guess what,” she said. “The storm came there, too.”
They settled across the border from Savannah in Hardeeville, S.C., an area known as the “Low Country Host.”
But it was not the kind of weather conditions promoted by the local chamber of commerce. They endured flooding and power outages, and 13 days after evacuating they finally were allowed to return to Marathon, Guarini’s home of five years. She came back to find that much about her adopted hometown had changed. At a highway checkpoint she saw military personnel wielding guns.
“It was a disaster,” Guarini said, choking back tears. “It was just horrible. It’s just been hard. We try to recover.”
Guarini said she is blessed because multiple trees fell in her yard, but none hit her home.
More than four months since the storm, Guarini noted some of the changes that remain. While Kmart is open in Marathon—albeit still under renovation to repair storm damage—Wendy’s, IHOP, Burger King and Winn-Dixie all have shuttered their Marathon operations.
Guarini was discussing the storm on a Wednesday night in early January as she greeted customers in her Kmart checkout aisle.*
Want to read more? The article continues at the Florida Conference’s webpage. They will soon release a second part to this article as well.
*Today’s featured image is of the KMart in Marathon, FL, courtesy of Yelp.com.