Snowbirds Fret After Irma

Sep 17, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Retirees across the country had no idea what happened to their second homes in Florida. Some have gone to Florida to find out for themselves, as NPR's Camila Domonoske reports from Fort Myers.

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CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: At the Woodsmoke Camping Resort, Sheila Lunsford is raking up branches as a generator hums in the background.

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SHEILA LUNSFORD: So anyway, we're doing the best we can to get cleaned up and get ready for season because that technically starts Oct. 15.

DOMONOSKE: That's when the snowbirds are expected to arrive. Florida is one of the most popular destinations for sun-loving retirees. It's hard to count the number of seasonal residents in the state, but it's estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. Many out-of-state owners weren't here to see how their homes fared in the storm.

LUNSFORD: So they're hearing the bad stories on television, of course, because a lot of them are in Michigan, Canada - you know, I don't know what they're hearing.

DOMONOSKE: Lunsford is one of the Woodsmoke residents who live here year-round. That means she's been busy with more than just removing debris. She's also been sending updates to residents who are currently up north. Lunsford doesn't have internet access so she texts the photos to someone in Chicago who emails them to residents.

LUNSFORD: We have been furiously, for the past two days, taking pictures. So it's helping tremendously for them to be able to see that there's - you know, is damage or no damage.

DOMONOSKE: Hurricane Irma had an uneven impact around Fort Myers. A manufactured home that lost an entire addition to wind damage sits right next to one that was untouched. One park looks pristine while one down the road is severely flooded. That means anxiety for owners who can't see their property for themselves. Jim and Ann Gorman live in Greenwood, Ind., and they couldn't take not knowing. Some snowbirds couldn't drive down because of the gas shortages. The Gormans flew to their Fort Myers home as soon as the airport reopened.

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DOMONOSKE: We pile into their golf cart and take a tour of the community.

JIM GORMAN: We got some damage there - light pole, trees down, generator - no electricity there.

DOMONOSKE: They were relieved the damage wasn't worse. Some siding was blown off their home, but that's it. Their Florida car, a 96' Buick Park Avenue, was unscathed.

GORMAN: Up until the hurricane got here and went by, I was worried the whole place was gone.

DOMONOSKE: But people who can't make it to Florida are desperate for information. Christopher O'Connor is in New York. He has a vacation home in Naples.

CHRISTOPHER O'CONNOR: You know, we're up here. No access, no knowledge, no live pictures, nobody down there to help us.

DOMONOSKE: He's frustrated with the information he is receiving from the company that manages his property.

O'CONNOR: I literally within the space of 30 minutes got two separate - completely conflicting emails from them. There was flooding. There was no flooding. So which do you believe?

DOMONOSKE: He's heading down soon to assess the damage for himself. Camila Domonske, NPR News, Fort Myers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAT JON'S "SOUNDGIRL PERSONAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.