The struggle remains to recover from Hurricane Irma

Everglades City, Chokoloskee Island face long road ahead

EVERGLADES CITY, Fla. – When Hurricane Irma tore across the Florida Peninsula, all eyes were on the Florida Keys and coastal areas. Few gave much thought to the tiny fishing village of Everglades City and neighboring Chokoloskee Island, approximately 60 miles west of the Broward County border.

"There are still a lot of things in town that are closed -- restaurants, stores. Makes it kind of difficult," fishing guide Burgiss Hitchcock said.

Last fall, after Irma struck, Hitchcock and his neighbors were faced with the daunting task of dealing with the damage.

Hitchcock stuck around, but, pointing to an empty pad next to his home, he said many others did not.

"The guy that lived here is an older gentleman from Pennsylvania. It was his second hurricane, and he lost his house in both of them and he couldn't take it anymore. He just wasn't up to rebuilding and went back," Hitchcock said.

In Everglades City, nicknamed the "Stone Crab Capital of the World," fishing boats were spared but much of the housing was not.

"Most of the people here are just working people, and they've come home and there's nothing left for them to come home to but damage," James Philips, manager of Captain Jack's Seafood, said in September.

The rising water brought toxic sludge into low-lying homes, making them uninhabitable.

"If it wasn't for the water, this would have almost been a nonevent because there was very little damage from the wind," Everglades City Mayor Howie Grimm said.

Ten months after the storm, the roadways are no longer clogged with mountains of debris, but the road to recovery stretches far into the future.

"Some people are waiting on insurance money. Some people are waiting on FEMA. Some people are just waiting," Grimm said. "There's still a lot of work to do." 

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