CHOKOLOSKEE, Florida — After becoming damaged during Hurricane Irma, the bridge between the tiny island community of Chokoloskee and the Florida mainland finally re-opened on Tuesday.
Supplies and help quickly began pouring into the close-knit community that is known for shunning outsiders but was devastated by the storm.
"The island is destroyed, 85% destroyed. I could cry," said Craig Daniels Jnr, a boat operator, whose family has lived on the island going back seven generations.
Daniels, along with most of his family, rode out the hurricane on the island, filming videos and taking photos as the winds got faster and the water rose, chronicling the destruction of his homeland.
The Cajun Navy arrived on Tuesday once the bridge opened, fresh off assisting Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas, cutting down trees obstructing roads and clearing debris. The Red Cross began distributing food and water.
Over six feet of storm surge, consisting of mud and water, had infiltrated a neighborhood of mobile homes. One had a cactus collapse on to it, another had a huge tree crash through it.
"That surge is what killed us," said Moose Morrow, an 85-year-old who has lived on the island for 25 years.
Most of his belongings lay strewn outside his mobile home."The inside is even worse than the outside," he told BuzzFeed News.
He'd just arrived back to his home, which he shared with his wife until she passed away five years ago, a few hours earlier, after riding out the storm at his son's home in Fort Pierce.
"Terrible. It's bad, bad, bad," added Morrow. He immediately began clearing up his home, hopeful that power would be back on soon.
Just across the road, his neighbor's mobile home also suffered after three feet of storm surge hit the house.
"The house is not livable. But the bed is dry. Mud is on the floors," said Attila Komjathy, a retired 74-year-old. He said he and his partner Lynne would likely sleep in the back of their pick-up truck on Tuesday night, in the open air.
He did not have insurance and expected to receive nothing from authorities.
"I don't know if FEMA pays anything for water damage," said Komjathy
The 2010 census says 359 residents live on Chokoloskee, which is about an hour's drive from Naples. The community is mainly retirees or low-income working families, often fisherman or boat operators, who work in the Everglades.
"Most people skip us," said Craig Daniels Jnr, whose family has lived on the island going back seven generations. "We've been a look down upon community."
The community prides itself on its rebellious, independent nature – born from a history of marijuana smuggling in the 1980s, that started after the government created Everglades National Park and banned commercial fishing, the island's main industry.
As well as destroying homes, Irma is possibly destroying livelihoods in Chokoloskee, said Austin Johnson, a 27-year-old stone crabber. He expects his commercial fishing business to suffer dramatically this season.
"No one is coming down here wanting to buy anything," he said
Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Amber Jamieson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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