September 27, 2017

ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen
Eric Wright, left, and Kristin Story sift through debris left beneath their home on Cudjoe Key on Tuesday. Along with the seaweed, most of the items are from adjacent properties.

ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen Eric Wright, left, and Kristin Story sift through debris left beneath their home on Cudjoe Key on Tuesday. Along with the seaweed, most of the items are from adjacent properties.

The odor of sewage, mold and sawdust filled the air at Blackbeard Lane and Cutthroat Drive Tuesday.

Only the sounds of saws cutting and hammers pounding something could be heard across this intersection of Cudjoe Key.

“The canal is now a drain for sewage,” Tom Greaves said from behind his stilted home where he’s lived for 15 years.

Partially sunken boats floated askew as everything from furniture to bicycles sat in the still, brown water. The smell by the canal was revolting and unavoidable.

Surging waters left damage some four or five feet above the canal and moved boats. Residents came home to find boats that didn’t belong to them sitting under their homes. Some came from their immediate neighbors. Other boats must have come from somewhere else in the neighborhood.

It seemed as if every boat that was left on a trailer was pushed to some new location. Most of them looked beyond repair.

It also looked as if a trash dump exploded as people’s soaked belongings littered everything in sight. Greaves’ pontoon boat appears to be totaled, but he said the engine may be salvageable.

“Now would be a good time for the county to get some federal grants to clean these canals out,” Greaves said from behind his home.

For all the damage in the area — Cudjoe Key was ground zero for Hurricane Irma — Greaves’ home made it out relatively unscathed.

Not so much for his neighbors, Key West Publix produce manager Eric Wright and his girlfriend, Kristin Story, an accountant in Key West. Their rented, stilted home on Cutthroat Drive had extensive mold inside and structural damage.

There was already a FEMA notice on their front door when they arrived as well as a FEMA representative, who delivered the bad news — much of the ceiling and the walls had mold damage.

“It’s worse than I thought,” Wright deadpanned when the federal worker left. There was still no power to the house.

The smell inside their house was unbearable.

“Hold your breath,” Story said.

The couple had hoped to move back in by this weekend and begin the long clean-up. Those hopes were dashed.

They were able to evacuate to Homestead with things that mattered — personal photos, their two dogs, some clothes and other items. Everything outside was gone or waterlogged.

“A lot of other people have it way worse,” she said, adding that they are currently staying with friends in Key West.

Their 22-foot center console boat listed on its side in the driveway. Water looked to have made its way into the engine as well as the console. And a palm tree had fallen on it. The couple figures it was totaled.

Wright yelled to a neighbor who serves in the Coast Guard. He rode out the storm in a cutter out in the ocean, west of Cuba.

“Twelve to 15-footers,” he yelled about the waves. Wright shook his head in amazement.

Story pointed at some underwear and condoms in their front yard. It appeared a neighbor’s drawer of unmentionables floated away and found residence on their property.

“Look in the trees,” she said, noting the trash and how high the storm surge had been.

Greaves chatted with Wright about the status of their home and what he had seen elsewhere in the neighborhood. Not much of it was good.

The couple lamented that they might not be able to move back.

“It will take a year, at least, to clean all this up,” Wright said.

A truck stopped and an employee for the Florida-based Sun Bum sun block company gave Story some free sunscreen. She happily thanked them and appeared dedicated to staying positive throughout the ordeal.

“Hey, we’re making out OK! This is good sunscreen,” Story said, laughing and adding again that many others didn’t fare as well as she and Eric.

alinhardt@keysnews.com