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Hurricane Matthew Devastates Mobile Homes in Florida: ‘We Just Didn’t Know It Was This Bad’

Charlotte Alter Cristy and Jeremy Emerson's house in Oak Hill, Fla., on Oct. 7, 2016.

"We're going to have to move"

Cristy Emerson had always wanted a skylight. That’s what her husband Jeremy Emerson, 35, playfully reminded her as they surveyed the damage to their Oak Hill, Fla. home after Hurricane Matthew tore through early Friday. The metal roof of their bedroom had been ripped off the walls, leaving the room flooded with light but marred by sopping pink installation hanging from the rafters.

“We’re going to have to move,” Cristy, 38, says, looking at the ruined bed. “We’re finally going to get that house he’s been wanting.”

The Emersons are among hundreds in Florida evaluating damage to their homes and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a powerful Category 3 storm that blew up the coast on Friday, prompting widespread evacuations and pummeling the state with rain and wind. Oak Hill is about a half hour south of Daytona Beach, near the water.

The Emersons had already paid off the mobile home, but they do not have any kind of homeowners insurance. Jeremy owns a lawn company and Cristy is studying therapeutic massage and skin care while she raises their four kids, 15, 11, 10 and 8. Cristy says they’ve been saving for a new home for about a year, but the storm damage will move up their timeline. A lot.

“We knew the front was tore up—we just didn’t know it was this bad,” Jeremy says. A neighbor had texted him that their home was damaged, and he and Cristy had come from a relative’s house in nearby Edgewater to see how hard it was hit. It was worse than they’d expected. “We saved most of our stuff, the most important stuff,” Cristy says.

But they did not speak much as they looked over the home they had known for more than 14 years. Rain is pooled on the floors of bedrooms where their four children sleep on bunk beds, the ceiling sagging brown under the weight of the water. Printed sheets—pink for the girls, blue for the boys—are darkened into red and navy from the water. The room where the family keeps their exercise equipment and computers once had a roof, but now has the same unwelcome skylight as the master bedroom. There is water pooled on the floor in the kitchen, and the tub in the bathroom—which was recently renovated—is now filled with murky brown sludge. Jeremy jokes that he will take the entire bathroom to their new home, tile by tile.

Charlotte Alter
Charlotte AlterThe ceiling in Cristy and Jeremy Emerson’s house collapsed after Hurricane Matthew hit Oak Hill, Fla., on Oct. 7, 2016.

In the bedroom, there is a small candleholder with the word “Love” inscribed on the front. Each of the votives is filled with water.

Neighbors did not fare any better. Viren Patel, the owner of the Sunoco gas station across the street, closed his business Thursday at 4 p.m. to prepare for the storm. Metal sheets have loosened from the roof of the gas station and portions of the overhang are rattling as if they might fall off in the wind. Patel estimates it will cost him $5,000 to $10,000 for the structural repair, but he’ll also have to throw away all the rotten food inside the convenience store, which could set him back $3,000. Overall, he may be looking at up to $13,000 worth of property lost in less than 12 hours. “It was really bad,” he says.

Alexis Moore and Angela Ridgdill live in a nearby home, but they drove into the Oak Hill trailer park to check on property for a family member. “All their roofs are gone,” Moore says. “There are big holes in the side of the house,” Ridgdill adds. One of the homes in the neighborhood has sopping wet toys and bedding piled outside, like a garage sale gone horribly wrong.

“We thought it would be a lot worse—we thought we would lose our house,” Moore says. “I feel like we got really lucky.” As it happens, Moore and Ridgill’s home did not sustain much damage, but they did lose a fence they had recently put in. “Panel by panel, we watched it go,” Moore says. “Every hour we lost a panel.”

The worst part, they say, is that people around here likely won’t have the money to bounce back from the storm. “A lot of people here don’t have a lot of money,” Moore says. “There aren’t a lot of jobs to replace what they did lose.”

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