We scurried ‘like rats’: How Hurricane Irma shocked the bejeebers out of quaint village

Mark Jones’ shoes were caked in a gray paste of dirt and mud. His curly brown hair was damp with sweat. His face was that of a tired and defeated man.

Jones doesn’t give in to defeat easily. He is a fisherman.

For more than 40 years, he has toiled on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where he lives on a postage-stamp-size lot in Goodland, a remote fishing village hidden deep in the mangroves on the southeast corner of Marco Island.

The outpost of mobile homes, honky-tonk bars and boatyards has had an almost frolicking feud with Mother Nature for two centuries. Its quirky residents have proudly bucked the comforts of modern civilization — and have dueled ferocious weather gods armed with little more than sheer stubbornness and a bit of insanity.

But on Sunday afternoon, the 100 or so inhabitants of Goodland confronted a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which pillaged their hamlet with the force of a multiple-vortex tornado. Nearly everything in its path was left in ruins, including portions of Jones’ home.

“The sky grew dark, very dark, and the wind and rain began,” said Jones, who had stayed behind in his trailer, after sending the rest of his family to a shelter in Naples.

“Then, all of a sudden, everything stopped. It was quiet, the sky was almost clear … when that eyewall hit, it was perfect calm for almost an hour,” he recalled.

But Irma wasn’t gone, it had changed direction, spinning around for a wizardly final performance.

“Everyone had come outside. They thought it was clear, but then we ran, scurrying like rats.”

Jones stuck his head into his motorcycle helmet, and began grabbing some belongings — he wouldn’t say what — and began running through the storm, down the street to an abandoned firehouse, where he began stashing his stuff.

He did this again and again, tearing through a maze of debris — tree limbs and palm fronds, twisted metal and fences. At one point, he feared he would be killed by the blades of his own windmill, which tore from its tower and sailed right past him.

Finally, he was so tired and dazed, he climbed inside his shed, squeezing in the very top rafter, and waited.

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A mobile home lies in ruins a day after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Goodland, Fla.

Julie K. Brown Miami Herald staff

On Monday, as the sun began to shine, the full brunt of the hurricane was on display: whole houses crumbled or smashed by trees; boats flown into the streets; trucks and cars mangled; roofs just gone.

And there were tears.

“I’ve been through Donna, I’ve been through a lot of storms, but this one was the worst,” said another resident, who didn’t want to give her name. She was referring to Hurricane Donna, which devastated Florida in 1960.

“People come here because they don’t want people to know who they are or what they do,” she said.

Founded in the 1800s, the village was mostly isolated until a highway was built in 1939. Since then, it has been a hiding ground for Outlaw bikers, cocaine cowboys and those who came of age during the Woodstock generation.

Each June, the village has a “Spammy Jammy” at the Little Bar, a festival of sorts to ward off hurricanes and other evil intruders. Participants show up in pajamas, drink copious amounts of alcohol and make sculptures out of Spam.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the revelry in which locals also like to celebrate their singular success in warding off the development that has swallowed up so many other quaint Florida havens.

“They say that we’re actually a little drinking village with a fishing problem,” said Jones, admitting that his last name isn’t Jones at all. He didn’t want his photograph taken either.

“Don’t be insulted if people don’t talk to you. We really don’t take to outsiders.”

He figures he will rebuild.

“It’s still sturdy. I can make it work.”