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|| News Item: Posted 2005-12-22

Journalist Becomes Hurricane Victim
By Rhona Wise

Photo by Rhona Wise

Photo by Rhona Wise

Damage to Rhona's master bedroom.
Happy Holidays! Happy Holidays? I have two different words this holiday season, Hurricane Victim. That's right. Hurricane victim.

Hurricane Wilma ravaged her way through south Florida on October 24th. My husband and I have been homeless ever since.

As a journalist, I have covered people whose lives have been torn completely apart after hurricanes and in the wake of Katrina this year, how can we compare? We are so fortunate so who am I to complain?

We really can't compare with those who have lost every possession they own, as well as their neighborhoods. But to write about what we are going through and try to stay a focused journalist in the process, is tough. Ask me how I am and if you don't like the answer, don't worry, my mood will change in 5 minutes. The ups and downs on a daily basis can be excruciating. And every time we think we see a light at the end of the tunnel, we get buried by another avalanche.

To say it has been a rollercoaster is putting it mildly. I was at the World Series in Chicago when the storm blew through. I kept calling my answering machine to check the power. It was out. Ok, that was expected, the power goes out at my house during a good heavy rain. We are all shuttered up as tight as can be … no worries, YET.

It wasn't until I was checking into a hotel room in Houston for Game 3 of the World Series when I got a call from my husband. He was out of town when the storm hit as well. The house shuttered, the cat at the vet and we're both out of Dodge. Our neighbor called my husband as soon as the storm passed. "Ken, get back to the house, you lost your roof." He finally made it home (Planes, Trains and Automobiles style) and the roof was indeed gone … completely ripped off through to the decking.

Photo by Rhona Wise

Photo by Rhona Wise

This is an image of the master bedroom before the hurricane.
He and a friend spent hours (about 50) knee-deep in roof paper and hot tar trying to dry us in. He told me to stay and work, there was nothing I could do at home to help. We still had a home at that point. A few water stains on the ceilings, just enough to be a headache; luckily Wilma was a fast and 'dry' storm. They thought the roof would hold, patched as well as possible for a couple of do-it-yourselfers. There was still no power after the World Series was over. Electricity was out in most of the county, the roads were a mess; between no traffic signals and debris all over the roads, it was next to impossible to get around. Any one who has covered a storm knows: no power, no gas.

We did have plenty of supplies at the house. We know better: food, water, gas grill, and generator. But, Ken told me to go visit my sister in Boston, the area was still a mess, power was expected to be out for weeks and they thought they had shored up the roof enough. We would deal with everything when the power returned. He went back out of town to work, as well.

What happened next was a mess and a nightmare. Thank GOD for friends, GOOD friends. It rained in Miami, hard, that middle of the summer thunderstorm rain that leaves three inches in the matter of an hour. The roof didn't hold. Those good friends went to check on the house for us. I was at dinner when the call came in, "We are at the house, the tarps didn't hold, water is coming in from most of the fixtures; what do you want saved?" Ummmmm… (sinking in … NOT) but the geek that I am, the first thing I said was, " My computers, and the antique Thomasville King Bedroom set." Well, they saved more than that. They saved just about everything. And no words or gestures can ever express how grateful we are.

They removed all of the photo gear that I didn't have with me, my wedding and personal photo albums, my marriage certificate, EVERY personal framed photo in the house. My comforter set, which sounds silly, but I loved my bedroom, and I thank Melissa for stripping my bed, washing it immediately and saving it. The bed however… not so lucky…

They tarped, covered in sheet plastic or plastic bagged EVERYTHING else, so we were able to salvage most of out 'stuff.' The master bedroom was bad; I lost most of the contents of my closet and countless pairs of shoes… ok, so I'm female, and those of you thinking I could have used the closet swept clean anyway, are probably right. I won't ramble about the rest of the house details, but when we first walked in, the stench of my home was almost unbearable! To gag when you walk in your own home only those of you who have worked for weeks on a storm know what I am talking about.

The insides of the house have to go. ALL of it, right down to the studs. The sheetrock, carpet, cabinets, shelves, everything.

Photo by Rhona Wise

Photo by Rhona Wise

Damage to Rhona's roof.
And here we sit, furniture in storage, life scattered in boxes in several other locations. We still have to work. We have lives to live; news to pay attention to, schedules to keep; and in the meantime, contractors to see and the insurance company to 'gently remind.' Yea, that's right, no word from the insurance yet. We are completely lost and feel helpless as we have to rely on others.

Oh, and I know some of you are questioning… What about FEMA? Well, we are 'middle class' and 'insured', so, they ummmmm… they politely gave us the finger. You know… the "Sorry Charlie" flag.

Friends and loved ones are helping to get us through. Ken and I have established some holiday traditions of our own. So, so far the Holidays have been tough. The Heat play the Lakers on Christmas day in Miami this year. Will it help get my mind off not being able to bake and have a houseful this year? Maybe. I hope so. Maybe I'll make a portfolio picture instead.

I'm running out of shopping days until Christmas, hopefully I'll feel like buying something by then. But, right now it's 3AM and I have another contractor to meet in the morning and the Red Wings - Panthers tomorrow night… In the meantime, we'll keep doing this, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

I just want to go home.

(Rhona Wise is a Florida-base freelance photographer.)

Related Links:
Rhona's member page

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