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Continuing to restore lives after hurricane

BY PJ HELLER | BIG PINE KEY, Fla. | November 12, 1998

That is expected to be the rallying cry as bulldozers move in to the

clear the buildings, RVs and mobile homes that once made up the Halcyon

Mobile Home Park here.

Until Sept. 25, the mobile home park at the edge of the Atlantic pretty

much lived up to its name as a peaceful and calm community housing an

assortment of characters ranging from young children to retirees.

All that changed in September when Hurricane Georges ripped through the

park with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and a storm surge that left

a dozen residents -- who tried to ride out the storm in a building dubbed

the Alamo -- racing for higher ground.

Today, visitors to the park have a hard time telling where mobile homes

once stood. Many lay tossed about, their windows broken, their insides

flooded and clothing and other possessions scattered here and there. Part

of a boat is lodged in a tree near the shore; another part of a boat sits

on the ground next to one of the mobile homes. Cars sit in fields covered

by tree limbs and branches.

Few, if any, of the residents had insurance.

While most residents of the park have sought shelter elsewhere, some

have continued to live at the site. A month after the storm, they reported

they still did not have electricity and that the water quality is

questionable.

"We're just going to put our lives back together," says Tina Sullivan

when asked about her plans. "Every day is just another day of picking up

trash and trying to put it somewhere. You're constantly feeling that you're

in a dump."

While the trash issue may be solved when the bulldozers finally reach

the park, the emotional scars may take longer to heal.

"Emotionally I'm getting over it," says Sullivan, who moved to the park

only a few months before the storm hit and lost everything she owned,

including her RV. "Sometimes you find you're OK. Sometimes, when it starts

to rain or it starts to blow real hard, I get this sort of panic attack."

Even so, she says she plans to remain in the Keys.

Richard Clark, social chairman at the Big Pine United Methodist Church,

lived in a 1948 wooden fishing cabin at Halcyon that was destroyed in the

storm.

"It doesn't exist anymore," he said of the cabin he lived in for six

months.

Picking through the rubble looking for some of his possessions, Clark

says he's going to move to Key West -- but may come back to Big Pine.

Like Sullivan, G.R. Shelley, a 73-year-old retiree who lives at Halcyon,

intends to stay.

"Of course. Why not? This is my home," he says, sitting outside a small

mobile home badly damaged by the storm.

He and other residents report that the site is expected to be converted

from mobile home usage to an RV park.

"I've already made arrangements to get an RV so if it (the weather) gets

really bad, I can just pick up and go," Shelley said. "I want to live here.

This is a beautiful park. We have a beach. We've got everything we want

right here. I want to stay right here."

Kerosene lanterns hang outside his mobile home, providing light when the

sun goes down. Coolers are used to keep food cold, although getting ice has

sometimes been a problem. A barbecue grill has allowed residents to do some

cooking. Hot meals had been distributed to the park by St. Peter's Catholic

Church and the Big Pine Baptist Church.

"Pretty much everybody pulled together," Sullivan said. "Everybody as a

community pulled together. People constantly would walk by the trailer park

asking, 'Do you need ice? Do you need water?' It was pretty neat to watch

people be so concerned.

"I've never seen more of a community effort," she added. "It didn't

matter if people knew you. People from the churches and the community were

always coming around asking, 'Are you alright? Is there anything I can do?

Can I help you?'"

Posted Nov. 19, 1998


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