PALM BAY, Florida — Dewey Cuthbertson knew there would be damage to his mobile home in the aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne. But he was not prepared for this. No one could be.
Cuthbertson drove to Orlando to escape the storm’s wrath. He slept in his car for two days and then decided it was time to come home. But there was no home here anymore.
The place had been destroyed. All four walls were blown away by Jeanne’s fierce winds, and his belongings were tossed about like children’s toys. Everything was wet and almost nothing could be saved.
“I‘ll be all right,” the 74 year old veteran said. “I’m doing a lot better than some of my friends in the Navy who never returned home from duty.”
Cuthbertson walked to the home where he lived by himself and took a look. There in a corner was something he treasured. It was a scrapbook detailing his two decades in the Navy. There were newspaper stories from his time in Korea and Vietnam and pictures and letters he treasured. The book was badly damaged, every page was wet.
“This is what I did with my life. I was a stenographer for admirals. They moved around a lot to different ships, so I did, too,” Cuthbertson said. “I thought I was done moving, but I guess I’ll have to move again.”Video: Jeanne aftermath
A neighbor from the Palm Bay Estates mobile home park saw Cuthbertson’s car arrive and came to comfort him. “We’ll help you Dewey,” she told him. “Take a look around and tell me if there’s anything here you want to keep.”
The reality of the situation was starting to sink in. Cuthbertson pointed out a chair, a small waterlogged suitcase and the scrapbook.
“I guess that’s it,” he said. “I’m a relatively healthy person. Money and possessions are not that important.”
Just a few miles away, another couple was assessing their losses. John and Sheryl Shatzer decided to ride out the storm in their Barefoot Bay home as Jeanne came calling.
They fled from Hurricane Frances, and their home fared well. This time, they weren’t as fortunate.
“I’ve never been through anything like this in my life, and I never want to again,” said John Shatzer.
The Shatzers were on the second floor of their home as the roof started peeling off above them. They knew they’d need to make a quick escape.
“It disappeared like the snap of a finger. It was just gone,” Sheryl Shatzer said. “I knew we’d need to find a way out of here.”
They escaped, by shimming down an electrical cord, running to their car and waiting out the storm inside. It was a harrowing night, but not enough to make them leave.
“This is paradise. I want to stay in paradise, but I would like to have my house back together,” said John Shatzer.
Hoping for a swift recovery, this time
That’s a sentiment echoed by thousands of people along central Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Their homes are damaged and in desperate need of repair. Power is still out in many communities along the coast and repair crews are busy with jobs they started after hurricane Frances three weeks ago.
Many of those affected by the storm are seniors on fixed incomes who will have a difficult time putting their lives back together. And, almost everyone in the communities battered by Jeanne are simply storm weary.
After hurricane Frances, there was no power in Palm Bay for 13 days. That made it difficult to cook and get food and just survive. Weary residents are hoping this time, it won’t take quite as long.
Janet Shamlian is an NBC News Correspondent based in Dallas.