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Despite Keys disaster many will rebuild

BY PJ HELLER | BIG PINE KEY, Fla. | November 19, 1998

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (Nov. 19, 1998) -- The home he has owned for nearly

40 years is uninhabitable and will likely will have to be razed. His pride

and joy BMW motorcycle has been rendered useless. His health is in

shambles, putting his job at risk.

"I'm just one disapproved application away from being a street person,"

muses longtime Florida Keys resident Peter D. Hoffman.

But despite all the problems brought on by Hurricane Georges, the

56-year-old Hoffman remains resilient.

"If you want to take the attitude of, 'Oh my God,' then it's very easy

to sit down in the corner somewhere and cry," he said. "But I can't do

that. It's not me. I'll get out of it somehow. I may end up on the mainland

in a house trailer, an old ratty one for that matter. But I'll manage."

Hoffman's "can do" attitude is echoed by others on this island who were

affected by the wrath of Georges. While some say they're going to pack up

and leave, most vow to stay and rebuild their homes and their lives.

"It would be very hard for me to leave," noted Kandi Strock, who said

she has to live in the warm Keys climate because of spinal, joint and other

injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

Strock, 42, said even the climate in central Florida was too cold for her.

"I'm stuck here," she said. But, she added quickly, "I like it here."

Strock had been living in a garage apartment adjacent to a house

occupied by her father and sister. Both places were rendered uninhabitable

by the storm, which was so powerful that it launched a motorboat through

the back of the house.

Strock said she is coping the best she can and lauded the local churches

for their relief efforts.

"We've really been blessed by church families down here that have helped

us," she said. "The Catholic church (St. Peter's) on this island...they

have stretched themselves further than I can believe a church can be

stretched. They have gone beyond what anyone could imagine. And they are

still pushing to help."

As for herself, Strock says, "I do real well on some days and other days

I don't do as well. I'm getting around. I try to go out and help other

people."

Hoffman got a helping hand after his small house tucked away in the

mangroves in the middle of the island was hit by a storm surge that dumped

eight-inches of water in his living room. Some friends have since offered

to let him stay in a small trailer on their property.

"It gives me a comfortable place to stay and regroup," he said.

Georges not only took a toll on Hoffman's home and possessions, it also

aggravated a pre-existing heart condition, landing him in the hospital for

12 days.

"I just overdid it after the hurricane," he said. "It put me down."

These days, he says, he's trying to get his life back on track while

also trying to watch his health.

"The doctor told me no strenuous exercise," he said. "I keep redefining

strenuous.

"I used to be able to pick up just about anything and walk away with it

and I can't anymore, or at least right now.

"I'm used to doing for myself," he added. "This is kind of aggravating

and embarrassing. Even a little bit of work and I'm huffing like a steam

engine and I have to go lay down."

Hoffman, who spent 21 years in the Army before retiring and returning to

the Keys, had been making ends meet by working as a school bus driver. Now

he worries that concerns about his health may force school officials to let

him go.

"If I lose my job bus driving it will be very inconvenient but it won't

be the end of the world," he said.

Of greater concern is the fate of the house he has owned since 1960.

While Hoffman stayed in the house during the hurricane -- "I was pretty

sure the house could take it" -- it may not be able to survive Monroe

County's insistence that it be brought up to current building codes.

"There's almost no way to bring that house up to code," Hoffman said.

The house was not insured.

"When you go shopping for insurance and you have an old place like mine

that's out in the thick of things, they (insurance companies) sort of laugh

at you a little," he said. "When you do get a quote, it's prohibitively

expensive."

His one hope may be Habitat for Humanity, which is taking an active role

in rebuilding efforts in the Keys. A spokesman for the non-profit agency

said in late October it was still too early to tell how many homes Habitat

might build. The group organized a work day on Saturday (Oct. 24) to assist

in cleanup efforts.

"Habitat will be a life-saver for me," Hoffman said. "If all the red

tape can get cleared up, they (Habitat) will build me a place that's up to

code. I have to somehow or other come up with the materials, but I'm working in an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan right now. I kind of hate to

do that because my job is up in the air and therefore my ability to repay.

"I don't go ask something from a man and know in the back of my mind

that I can't pay it back," he said.

That same attitude prevailed when Hoffman was offered assistance by

local churches and the Red Cross.

"I kind of try and take only exactly what I need and leave the rest of

it for those who are a little worse off," he said.

Posted Nov. 20, 1998


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