of the Florida Keys were no longer recognizable.
Bonita Springs ... Immokalee ... Everglades City ...
Arcadia ... LaBelle ... these towns so close to ours were
some of the hardest hit.
Many lost everything, power was out for days and
confusion and miscommunication among some of the
bigger disaster relief providers slowed down the
process for people who needed help. Stores throughout
Florida were closed for days in some cases, even in
areas not hit as hard. There was no gas, there was little
bottled water. Many grocery store shelves were empty,
and the food didn’t come back with true reliability for
almost two weeks (many of us still breathe a sigh of
relief to see loaves of bread on the shelves, even more
of us feel a twinge of desperation when we see we’re
down to 1/4 of a tank in our cars).
Those who had a roof over their head but were without
water, power and electricity flushed toilets with
water from the bathtub, shared their supplies of food
and batteries with each other and were generous with
their cell phone chargers.
Here on Gasparilla Island, though, things are often
different and this storm was no exception: The
infrastructure of people who hold this “spit of sandy
land” together is undeniably strong.
In a big town people see a tree down across the road
and stand and stare, but in a little town everyone grabs
a chain saw and starts cutting. At daybreak on Monday,
Sept. 11 people were starting to find ways to get back
to the island and get to work. The sounds of chain saws
and generators filled the air.
Everyone from the firefighters to Joe Wier at the
Boca Grande Community Center congregated before
the wind even completely died down, and they got to
work. Local excavating company owner Kevin Kelley has
handled more than a few storm clean-ups in his time
on the island. His equipment was running before the
rain stopped and he was one of the very first people
to see and start cleaning up the damage after the storm.
Downed lines were called in and marked as safety
hazards, firefighters and sheriff ’s deputies went door to
door to make sure the people who stayed were all
right. People slowly started coming out from their
homes to witness the fact our island was, in fact, still
We weren’t without damage, though. Some of the
worst of it took place at the south end, particularly at
Gasparilla Island State Park. The Amory Chapel looked
like a little cabin in the Minnesota woods after a deep
snowfall, but water and sand made their way into the
building as well. Ankle-deep, it left its mark on the walls
and floors that had just been redone. The dunes on the
22 GASPARILLA ISLAND November/December 2017
Flooded roads, downed power lines and landscaping
issues were reported on Gasparilla Island after the
hurricane, with the Amory Chapel and the beach
dunes getting the brunt of Irma’s wrath.