After Idalia, neighbors in Perry share a spirit of hope and togetherness

by WFSU Public Media

The city of Perry was hit hard by Hurricane Idalia. It stormed ashore with 125 mph winds Wednesday knocking out power, damaging homes, and smashing businesses. After the winds and rains cleared, community members realized recovery would be just as hard. But as neighbors gathered in the rural Big Bend town, they took the first steps toward picking up the pieces.

In some parts of Perry the sound of chainsaws is almost enough to drown out the usual singing of cicadas and tree frogs. Families, neighbors and out-of-towners are coming together to clear roadways and hopefully a path to recovery.

“It took a tough hit, a very though hit,” says Perry resident Denise Mango.

She says the aftermath of the storm looks bad, but she prefers to view things in a more positive light.

The cup being half full, you know,”Mango says. “But as far as the community if we could come together as a whole, we could do it.”

In a gas station parking lot, where a plume of smoke carries the smell of barbecue, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Highway 19 Gas and Grill is one of the only stores open. The power is out and rather than waste the food that might spoil, workers are in the parking lot cooking up a free feast for the community. Others have brought bags of charcoal or helped clear the parking lot of debris.

“We work together. We’re family here,” says Mary Grambling. “We know everybody by name. We kiss the kids. We hug. We check on everybody. That’s how we do it around here.”

Grambling is helping dish up to-go boxes for a growing line. She says in the 50 years she’s lived in Perry she’s never seen a storm so devastating.

Grambling’s coworker Shawnda Palmer says her house was damaged by the storm. Part of the roof lifted up and one of the rooms flooded from the incoming rain. She doesn’t have homeowner’s insurance.

“Most of this community don’t, unless they’re paying a mortgage or a payment. You can’t really afford that here. It’s just too hard. You barely make your bills,” Palmer says.

In rural communities like this it’s not unusual for houses to be passed down through generations—meaning they’re often owned outright. And since homeowner’s insurance is so expensive in Florida, people often choose not to carry it when it’s not required.

That can make recovery an even longer and more difficult process—one Palmer says she’s not sure can be done. But for her, standing behind a grill, feeding her community feels like a good place to start.

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