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Immokalee A Year After Irma

Rachel Iacovone
Felled trees along a northeast Collier County road just hours after Hurricane Irma

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On the year anniversary of Hurricane Irma making landfall in Southwest Florida, WGCU is taking a look back at the damage and at the recovery since.

WGCU’s Rachel Iacovone reports from one of the hardest hit and most overlooked areas in the region.

Laysa Castenada lives with her mother in Immokalee. The young woman is bilingual, but when I meet them both, I ask my questions in Spanish, so her mom, Zaira, can tell me about la tormenta too.

"How was your house afterward?" I ask in Spanish. “¿Cómo estuvo tu casa después?”

“Se lleno de agua por la lake, la laguna. Mucho de lo shingles, the shingles, se cayeron. So, eso afecto nos roof," Laysa says.

“El techo,” Zaira corrects.

“El techo," Laysa repeats.

Laysa tells me their home, along Lake Trafford, filled with water. Most of the shingles fell off the roof — rather, "el techo” as her mother corrects.

"So, did you tell anyone? FEMA?" I ask. “Y, ¿le dijiste a algien? ¿FEMA?”

“Sí, los dijimos, pero…” Laysa answers. "Yes, we told them, but…"

Zaira cuts in. They took too long, she says.

“Tardaron mucho para arreglalo," Zaira says. "So, que nosotros la arreglamos personalmente.”

So, they fixed the damage themselves.

Laysa’s a communication student at Florida Gulf Coast University. Her mom is a farmworker, who usually works in the orange fields.

So, they found the disaster aid within their tightknit community for cheaper and faster.

Across town, mass lets out at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Hungry parishioners line up for the homemade tacos around back, where Irene Barnhart Sauceda is manning the outdoor grill.

“We were out of power for 17 days," Barnhart Sauceda says. "I think we were the last group to get power in Immokalee.”

Barnhart Sauceda, her husband and their three boys live on the inland-most edge of town, so they never got the break of the eye passing over — just the eye wall for the entirety of the slow-moving storm’s landfall.

“It took off our pool cage, and our lanais," she says. "We had flood damage in our barn, our sheds, our other rooms.”

The family’s repairs are beginning with the pool cage a year later — on the very day Irma tore it from their home.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting," Barnhart Sauceda says. "There were just too many people who needed repairs.”

Despite the wait, Barnhart Sauceda says she feels blessed that it wasn’t worse. She tells me what many in Immokalee have since Irma: "Thank God."

"Gracias a Dios."

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.