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."