Sunday, September 17, 2017

Decisions to Make

Blairsville, Ga (high 80, low 58)

Things are a mess in the Keys.

Fortunately, Key West was spared the brunt of the storm, thank goodness.  Key West is such a beautiful and special town, full of history, large old trees and beautiful architecture and although there is damage, it could have been worse.  My cousins house is fine.  No flooding.  A tree or two and some fencing down.  They still do not have consistent power, water, or flushable toilets so they have no urgent need to rush back down.

Information is trickling in, little by little.  Things are not good.  Electricity and cell service is very very limited.   There is limited or no sewer service.  Running water is limited and needs to be boiled but with no electricity, that's an issue.  We did find out that our neighbor Randy who rode out the hurricane, was unharmed and had made his way to the mainland for much needed supplies.

Up until yesterday, most residents were  still being kept out to make room for first responders to remove downed power lines, trees across the roads, washed out roads and to make sure the 46 bridges were safe.  Residents were getting angry.   Many people have damaged property that needs to be secured from the elements and they are very anxious to return home. People are worried about looting. Some people have run out of money and have no food or gas.  Food, water and fuel is still very limited in the Keys.   The powers that be finally relented and as of today have opened up the Keys to residents only and a curfew is strictly enforced.   I have even heard that they are now allowing open carry,  which means you can carry a weapon and not conceal it.

We have two Aircraft carries offshore in Key West proving help, along with the National Guard.   I've seen pictures of Chinook helicopters landing in the grocery store parking lots.  Military is out in force cleaning up.  They are sleeping on cots wherever they can find a place.  God bless them all for helping.  The temperatures are stifling.  Much of the shade has been destroyed and of course there is no air conditioning.

We  already knew our RV had been destroyed from the aerial photos we had seen, but Friday we got some taken from the ground.

To say it was a shock was an understatement.

Most of us have seen news reports from different catastrophes where they paint the red "X"s on property after they check for bodies. These marks identify the agency that inspected, the date and time and on the bottom the number of fatalities. A big "0" means no fatalities.

Someone went around in a golf cart taking video of each street. It was pretty fast but we were able to identify our lot and rig.  Oh the video, you could hear them comment "oh my God" when they saw ours.

Sorry for the bad quality of these pictures.  They were screen shots from a video.  The white Wildwood that is still standing is not ours.   Ours is the pile of rubble to the right of it.

For some reason, seeing the orange marks on our RV hit me really hard. It's something you see on the news all the time, but man, it really hits home when it's on your home.  The furniture sitting outside got to Al more than me.  I never liked that furniture.  haha

The following picture shows it from another angle. This is the bottom of the RV.  More orange writing

We do not know why our RV came apart like it did, when others did ok.  We think it was mostly because ours was hit broadside with Cat 4 winds with nothing to buffer the wind.  Our lot is near the open water with a row of tall stilt houses as the only thing that is in front of us. The stilts allow all the open air to rush right onto ours broadside. The open air that always gave us such a nice afternoon breeze was our downfall.  We are guessing the broadside wind found an opening and tore it apart. Perhaps we buffered the Wildwood next door because it looks to be in pretty good shape.   The stilt houses did fine, but those stilts did not block any wind from hitting us.  Perhaps it was a small tornado, but whatever it was, it did a good job on our RV

We have filed a claim with Progressive. I am so thankful we have Progressive because as a former claim adjuster, I know them to be fair and professional.   We even got a call from USAA since they referred us to Progressive since they don't write full coverage on rv's in Florida. They offered their assistance if we had any issues with Progressive.   A team of CAT adjusters will be in the Keys as soon as they are allowed.   We have $15,000 in additional coverage for contents. We should be ok there but I don't think they won't cover anything outside the rv. Unfortunately the contents will be depreciated depending on the age.  Now, we need to start making a list of everything in the RV.

We have no more info on the boat other than a picture of the storage lot where it was located.  We do not know which is our boat.  Hopefully it is not a total loss.  Fortunately, it is also insured with Progressive.

So what do we do now?  Go down and try to salvage some of our things?  Deal with no power or air conditioning, no water, sewer, cell service?   We don't think much from inside the RV will be salvageable, but who knows. We are hoping to find our scuba tanks, bikes and stuff like that.

The thought of going down with no AC is not something we want to do. We would prefer power was restored so that our one night we have to spend there will not be miserable. Will it be worth the trouble for the amount  we are able to salvage?  We just don't know.

 There will be no hotels available but fortunately my cousin offered us the use of their home in Key West. I think they are inclined to wait for the AC to be restored before they go back.  They were nice enough to offer us the use of their home even before they get back, but I doubt we will do that.

To add another problem, there is a new potential hurricane heading along the same path as Irma. The models are showing it as a Cat 3 and heading towards the same islands that were decimated the last time.  No one knows where she will go, but we sure do not want to be in the Keys trying to evacuate for another storm.

So, that is our dilemma.  Since people are heading back today, I'm sure a lot more information will be coming out.  We will give it a few days and make a decision.

We have been watching videos of the destruction in the Keys. It's heartbreaking.

Here are a few pictures of our beloved Florida Keys from the past. The Keys will recover and be the beautiful place we love again.  Many people assume we won't be going back to the Keys anymore.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is our winter home, we love it there and we will be back.

Would you believe, this tiki hut survived?  A little windblown I'm sure.

Happier days on our patio.

Some the decorations we had that we hope we can find.

I really want to find my wonderful bike.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

It's Not the Outcome We Wanted - Hurricane Irma

Blairsville, Ga (high 72, low 58)

We have been enjoying the very fall like temperatures here in north Georgia with a cooler than normal September.  We have had several mornings with temps as low as 42 degrees!  That is about to change soon, as we get ready to head to they Keys and the heat and humidity.

As I posted on the past few blogs, we have been trying to figure the status of the Fifth Wheel.  Last winter we  had it towed down as a permanent winter home in the Florida Keys. Irma made landfall (ground zero) as a Cat 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, right on our little island paradise of Cudjoe Key.

Most everyone in the Keys heeded the mandatory evacuation.  A few people stayed, some even rode it out on boats.    I can't imagine why anyone would want to ride out a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane on a small island in the Keys, but some surely did.

The hurricane knocked out all the power, cell service, sewer, water and of course communications.  For days we have all been forming Facebook groups for each area with the goal of locating "missing" people who stayed, finding out how our property fared, and when we can go back. It has been a frantic search for information.

I was asked why we can't just call the owners of our community for the status.  We are the "owners" and none of us know anything except the few people who stayed and they have no way to communicate.  Most of the police and first responders even evacuated. This was a BIG deal for the Keys and people took it very, very seriously, as they should have.  No one that knows anything has any way to notify anyone about damages or missing people.   People are frantically trying to check on missing friends and family who stayed for the hurricane.

Something I didn't know but now assume it is available for any disaster like this, is that NOAA flies planes overhead filming the area of the disaster afterwards, giving people and governments information about damages.  They filmed the entire 100 + miles of the Florida Keys,  starting in  Key West and all the way up to Key Largo.  It took three days and of course, our section was last for some reason.    There were many news teams coming in and filming areas.  Cudjoe Key (the island) and Venture Out (our resort community) was filmed many times, but they never quite got to our house, so we really didn't know  the status or our boat and fifth wheel.

Not knowing turned out to be very stressful.  We spent hours each day perusing all the FB groups, news organizations looking for video, tv channels and word of mouth.  I found a lot of info and pictures of Venture Out, just nothing definitive on our property.

Last night while on our nightly golf cart ride searching for bears, we found our answer and it wasn't good.

We initially had been sure the fifth wheel was completely destroyed,  but then we started seeing pictures of rv's that were still standing and looked to be fine.  It allowed us to get a bit of hope.

Here is the link for the NOAA after hurricane pictures. It really is kind of interesting

NOAA Florida Keys after Irma  You click on the area in black, zoom and make sure it's set to Map Box Street under layers.

Here is what our lot and Rv looked like pre Irma

Here is what it looks like after Irma
The fifth wheel is in the middle, sitting at an angle.  The problem with the location of our lot is that the only thing between us and the open water is a single row of high rises houses (on stilts) and an empty rv lot on the water.  There was absolutely NO wind block.  It was nice on those hot afternoons because we almost always had a wonderful breeze.

We store our boat at the Venture Out lot.  We aren't even sure where the boat is from this photo.  It looks like the storm surge moved them all around. There were some large boats here.

Last winter, we discovered the coolest place from the past. It was called Perky's Bat tower.  We had no idea how old or what it was when we found it.  After researching it, we discovered it was built in 1929 and was to house bats for mosquito control. The only problem is once released, the bats flew off never to be seen again.

Here is what it used to look like

You can see here how large it is

This is what is looks like now.  You can see it toppled down. It's a shame.

So, now that we know for certain our Rv is a total loss, we need to decide what to do next.  I reported the claim a few days ago and I'm sure the Catastrophe insurance adjusters are going to be arriving as soon as it's safe for them to enter the Keys.

They had to make sure the 46 or so bridges are safe, remove power lines, repair washed out roads (remember, these are a string of islands connected by roads so you want to make sure the roads are good) and attempt to restore water, sewage, electricity and cell service.

They are making progress but only allowing property owners and renters back into the upper Keys right now and curfews are being strictly enforced.

We think we should head to the Keys once we are allowed back in. There will be things from the Fifth Wheel and trailer, that hopefully we can salvage.  It will not be a pleasant trip.  It will be hot, we won't have a place to stay, hotels will be scarce, and supplies will be limited to what you can bring.

The good news is that at least some of the endangered Key Deer survived.  Their food sources have been ravaged though and I saw a video in which they were definitely freaked out.  This guy seems to be doing fine though, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hurricane Irma Aftermath

Blairsville, Ga (high 66, low 55)

We survived Hurricane Irma and all of our close family and friends are safe and sound.  We have a neighbor in the Keys who stayed  to ride out the hurricane, and we haven't heard anything about him, which is not particularly unusual right now.  There is no electricity, the cell towers are down, and info is scarce.  We are hoping he and his friends are fine.

The Tampa area dodged a big bullet when the storm shifted a little at the last minute, sparing a direct hit over Tampa.  Our motorhome appears to be fine, but I'll feel better when our friend Stephanie checks it out inside.

Mom and my brother are fine with no damage or flooding.  They were without power for about 18 hours.  Our rental house is fine, but 24 hours afterwards, power still had not been restored.  That is miserable for them because unlike the cool temps here, it is very hot in Florida.

The media has finally realized that the big story regarding Irma, was down in the Keys. Unfortunately, Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key.   If that sounds familiar to any of you, it may be because  our property is on Cudjoe, at Venture Out Resort, and you've seen many posts from there. You will be hearing a lot about the area in the days to come.

We bought an older and inexpensive (thank goodness) fifth wheel last year and had it towed down there as our winter home.  Al nearly killed himself drilling down into the very, very hard rock in order to install anchors to secure the RV. We never kidded ourselves that the anchors would stop a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane, but we thought just maybe it would help during a minimal storm.

Once we knew the Keys were going to be hit with a Cat 4 hurricane, we wrote off our RV and boat,  knowing they could not survive 140 mile an hour winds and 5-10 feet of storm surge.  However, when the weather reports confirmed Cudjoe Key to be ground zero, it was a little emotional and very sad.

Information coming in and out of the Keys has been almost nonexistent.  There is no cell service or power. No one is has been allowed in or out.  Land lines seem to work, but very few people have them.  Finally, the media has recognized this to be a big story and they are flocking down there filming the areas and interviewing survivors.   There are survivors down there in the brutal heat with limited food, water or shelter.

There are Facebook groups forming for the different areas and everyone shares every bit of info they get. It comes in pieces. We have seen a few photos and videos of Venture Out and Cudjoe Key, but so far, not specifically our house.

NOAA, is doing a fly over filming the area so people can get a close up look at their property.  My cousin Anne was able to see a picture of their house, showing them that it's still standing and has an intact roof. Such a relief for them, but they are still now allowed reentry into the Keys.  They are hoping early next week.

They filmed Key West first, and were supposedly working their way up to Cudjoe Key, but for some reason skipped it and went right up to Marathon.  There is speculation online that it was because Cudjoe was ground zero and the damage was so bad.  I don't really know.

If you would like to see some of the damage, here is a link


You have to zoom in and then under layers, select "map box streets".   You can see cars in the driveways, boats, even my cousin's Tiki hut and pool.

After being glued to Facebook and the Tv for two days, we have finally gotten a little bit of good news.  Nothing specific for our property, but there are rv's that appear to have survived.  We have seen pictures of them in our park which are standing upright and even the AC covers are intact.

Unfortunately, we've also seen some completely obliterated and others laying on their sides.  We have no idea about the state of ours, but after thinking about where the hurricane made landfall and the direction of travel, we realize our would have been hit broadside with only one row of homes between it and the ocean.  Broadside is never good.

So, we wait.  We don't know if we should go down and see if we can salvage anything or not. We don't want to go down there for nothing, but it would be nice if we could salvage some of our stuff. It will be brutally hot.  We won't have a place to stay and hotels will be limited.  Will there be power, water, cell service, fuel?   All questions we can't answer right now.  We were hoping to see the aerial photos today to confirm one way of the other if our RV was in one piece or a thousand.  It looks like we have to wait another day or two.

This is a picture of the Southernmost point in the US. This buoy is famous and every tourist in Key West takes a picture of himself at this point.   It's symbolizes the rest of the Keys.  Battered, but not broken.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma Status Report

I had written a blog post a day or so ago, but hadn't gotten around to proof reading it yet and now it seems a little unimportant.  Maybe I'll post it in a few days.

For now, we are very closely watching The Weather Channel and Hurricane Irma.  It seems we've been watching it forever.  It's very stressful.

We are safe in our Fifth Wheel in Blairsville, Georgia, but are actually under a tropical storm watch even all the way up here.  Damn Irma!

My Mom and brother are in Tampa hunkered down in her concrete block house.  They have lost power, but hopefully they will be ok.

Our motorhome is north of Tampa in Wesley Chapel.  We are praying it is ok.

Our Fifth Wheel and boat in the Keys, sadly are gone.   Apparently Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key, which is exactly where our lot is.  It's a tiny island, so we're certain it is destroyed as it came in as a Cat 4 with some 120+ mile an hour winds.  It's possible the boat is still hanging around but with reports of 8-10 foot surge, it will be ruined from the salt water.

There were a few brave souls that remained in the Keys and one was a neighbor.  He had posted a video right before the eye hit but had to scurry when the ocean started coming up.  Scary.  Of course, they have no power or cell service, so there is no way to know how he is.  We are praying everyone who stayed is safe, but sadly, probably many won't be.

We expected our RV and boat to be gone, but when we saw the reports of landfall on Cudjoe, it was very sad and brought a few tears.

So, that's where we are now.  We are here waiting to see what happens overnight and then decide how to proceed.  We just don't know.

This is a picture from a happier time on Cudjoe Key
My last blog post was of a much happier day, out on the boat diving.