Growing up in Central Illinois, I witnessed first-hand the damage that tornadoes could do. They could carve a path of destruction through any terrain. There was a tornado warning siren on the water tower that stood just 300 feet from our brick home on Walnut Street, and it was not unusual to hear the siren blaring in the summer night. That was our cue to take shelter in our basement until the danger passed.
Many years later, I witnessed the devastation caused by a flood in Colorado’s Big Thompson Canyon. The residents there had no siren to warn them of the oncoming carnage. However, localized tornadoes and floods cannot compare to the widespread destructive force of a major hurricane. Tornadoes and floods occur with little or no warning, allowing people no time to prepare for the potential disaster. Hurricanes, however, move more slowly, giving people in the projected path of the storm ample time to worry and, ideally, prepare for the hurricane’s arrival.
Longtime residents of Florida’s southwest coast were well aware of the tremendous damage that a hurricane can cause. They knew that a hurricane’s high wind speeds, torrential rain and the resulting flooding could cripple a community and claim many lives. Ian was just such a storm. At last count, the Associated Press reported that 119 people lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Ian.
Shortly after the storm passed, I learned that Kathleen Mracheck, a former resident of Carbondale, owned a home in Naples, Florida, and although her home had been rendered uninhabitable by the hurricane, she had survived. Mracheck agreed to share her experience with The Sopris Sun.
She first arrived in Naples over 20 years ago and describes the residents of Naples as generally older and more conservative. Many of her neighbors are originally from Indiana, and most of them are retired working-class people.
Mracheck purchased her mobile home in 2000, remodeled it, and, as an accomplished artist, has returned to Naples for “the art season” every year. She says that the home was in “a stellar location,” near “all the things that define quality-of-life.” Although it wasn’t her first choice to live in a mobile home, “it was a strategic step to eventually buy a home in Carbondale,” she says.
According to Mracheck, preparation for a hurricane is required in Naples, and owners that leave town for the summer months must move all objects inside, bolt down outdoor planters and make sure that all windows are covered, presumably with strong materials like plywood or metal.
Mracheck and her partner, Tim, first heard about Hurricane Ian as they were returning from an out-of-town trip. Upon arriving in Naples, they were greeted with an unimaginable disaster. Her home, which was also her art studio, had suffered severe flooding in her absence. The studio was submerged in an estimated 4.5 feet of water, ruining all of her original artwork stored there, the sale of which would have represented most of her income. She was left with nothing to sell at art shows.
The depth of the water inside her home had reached around 2.5 feet. All of the flooring was ruined and had to be removed. The custom furniture that Mracheck had built was destroyed. Her refrigerator survived, but the washer, dryer and air conditioner did not. Drywall and insulation had to be torn out, and everything in her home had to be disinfected to prevent mold. Important documents, photos and records were destroyed, and every home in the area had a massive pile of ruined items stacked out front.
Then, there was the matter of insurance. Mracheck and most of her neighbors did not have homeowner’s insurance due to its high cost. Moreover, flood insurance is not included with homeowner’s insurance and, Mracheck reports, is extremely expensive. She expects that 10% of the homeowners in her community may just strip their mobile homes and “sell them as bones.”
Mracheck was grateful for all of the volunteers that came into her community to help residents. She says that there was a family walking through the neighborhood offering meals that they had prepared. Most of the volunteers were complete strangers, some of them having driven a great distance to offer their help.
Although the number of volunteers has dwindled along with news coverage, Mracheck says “The blessing … is really to experience the volunteers’ compassion,” which she describes as “love in action.”
If you wish to help Mracheck rebuild her home, visit: www.gofundme.com/f/help-rebuild-kathleens-home