It has not been an easy summer on the Florida coast, and I could hear resignation and weariness in my sister's voice as she watched the rain and wind of Hurricane Frances slowly roll into Sarasota. We talk a lot more, it seems, during hurricane season--wishing each other well as cyclones near the west coast of Florida or the beaches of the Carolinas. This year there's been a lot to talk about. Sarasota was spared Charley's wrath, but volunteering through her church, she has seen the damage up close. The other day she drove around a devastated neighborhood handing out 150 cups of coffee.
"I'm becoming the church lady," she said.
She's been spending much of her time in the past couple of weeks volunteering in Arcadia, an inland community full of the workers who keep places like Sarasota running. Their modest homes and trailers were torn apart by Charley, and even by the time the ruins were being soaked by Frances, the shock of their loss had still not sunken in. Whole neighborhoods are gone.
"There are people who still want to know when they're getting their power turned on," my sister said. "They don't understand that there's not going to be any power. There's no home left to go to."
Some memories never fade, as reporter Barbara Solow and photographer York Wilson discovered during visits to Maple Hill, an inland community that suffered heavy flooding during Hurricane Floyd five years ago.
For many of us, Maple Hill is a little place you pass through on the way to the beaches of Topsail Island. You have to look closely to see that, like the memories, the effects of Floyd linger long after the television cameras are trained elsewhere and the state has closed the books on the disaster.
The closer look we offer this week reminds us that behind the damage reports, the billion-dollar estimates and the promises of recovery, there are real people for whom life will never be the same. For some, like those in Maple Hill, it's evident that the system for helping our neighbors falls short.
For those of us who've lived through storms, it's a little hard to celebrate that we dodged Frances. You know that beneath the satellite images, homes, neighborhoods and communities are being torn apart. You know that lives are being forever changed, recovery (if it ever comes) is a long way away, and the next storm is not far behind.