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It looks like the makings of a fun weekend camping outside with friends — there are tents and coolers, and somewhat of a gathering place underneath a larger tent.
But it’s not for fun at all. It’s become a way of life for a number of people on Big Pine Key who are still without homes almost three months after the Sept. 10 landfall of Category 4 Hurricane Irma. On several streets, particularly in the Avenues area, debris piles still line the road and fill empty properties.
Scott Seaver has been living in a tent on his friend’s Edward Road property for more than two months.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “For one, you don’t want to be stuck in it all the time, and weather plays a factor.”
Seaver said that after his apartment was destroyed in the storm, his then-landlord “found someone else that would pay him good money” for the room and repair it in the meantime. Seaver had a week to get out.
“The landlord bought the tent and it was like ‘Here ya go — see ya later,’ ” Seaver said, adding he lost his photo ID in the storm and that has not helped his case with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Inside the tent, he sleeps on an air mattress on top of a cot. He has a box of clothes and a small radio. When it rains, he takes shelter under a larger tent outside and said he just hopes water doesn’t leak into the tent where he sleeps.
His friends, a couple who were also living in a tent on the property at the time because they could not live inside the house, provide Seaver with a shower and restroom. The couple is now living inside the house and renovating it while Seaver and another woman live in the yard.
A few streets away on Avenue C is another tent where Lori Jones has been living with her boyfriend since the storm.
“It’s awful. It’s really awful,” she said, pointing to the trailer where the retired couple used to live. Their tent sits next to it, and all of their belongings are in the yard covered in tarps. A few weeks after the storm, someone stole their generator in the middle of the night.
“We’re living out of coolers and going through ice like crazy every day. It’s not cheap,” she said.
Across the street, debris is piled high.
“I don’t understand. They’re not cleaning up,” Jones said. “I haven’t seen anybody.”
For laundry, the couple has been going to a laundromat. For food, they cook on a small camp stove, “which is really hard because you have to really think about what you’re making,” Jones said. There is a bathroom on the property with a shower.
Meanwhile, the couple is waiting to hear back from the Small Business Administration about a possible loan. It’s a waiting game to see whether the trailer can be fixed or eventually disposed of.
After seeing a clip of a “Good Morning America” segment filmed in Key West recently, Jones said, “They were all laughing and joking like, ‘Oh yeah, Key West is fine’ but once you step outside Key West, there are 90 miles of trash.”