November 15, 2022
“This is the part of Florida nobody sees”
That’s what 67-year-old Henry Stephens said about Arcadia, Florida—the place he loves to call home, even when surrounded by debris left behind by Hurricane Ian.
“Here’s where my grandson catches wild tilapia,” he said, pointing directly off his deck, which overlooks Horse Creek.
“Manatees come right up through here, and otters, too,” he added as he walked around his 3.5-acre property with his three rescue dogs. “We canoe right down that way,” he added, pointing to the calm, shaded creek, which eventually feeds into the Peace River.
When visitors come to Florida, they don’t see his neck of the woods. “They see only the beaches,” said Stephens, who was born in Michigan but has lived in Florida for 42 years.
Horse Creek, the largest tributary of the Peace River, is now back to its normal 10-foot/3 metres depth. But Hurricane Ian drove it up to an unprecedented level, sending a foot of water into Stephens’ home on Sept. 26.
He had recently raised the house 10 feet, putting it up on stilts. “I had canceled my flood insurance, because the house was so high,” he said, wanting to save the cost of $5,000 U.S. a year.
After the water receded, Stephens and his wife lived in their trailer while he pulled up ruined flooring, used his shop-vac on the mattresses, and restored the electrical wiring. “I’ve been working on getting all this repaired the best I can,” he said.
But a huge tree, downed by the storm and lodged in the backyard, was beyond him. He points to where a treehouse, rope swing, and slack line once stood for his four grandkids to enjoy. A child’s bike, caked with mud, still leaned against the house.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Early Response Teams arrived with a tractor and chainsaws on a sunny October afternoon to remove the huge tree.
“You took a big chunk of my weight off,” Stephens said, as they prayed together when the job was complete.
“God keeps me going,” he added. “You just have to put one foot in front of the other.”
He describes his disaster recovery so far as “perpetual motion,” where he works all day, every day on some aspect of clearing, repairing, or rebuilding.
“This was supposedly the 500-year flood,” he said. “I hope I never see another one like this.”
Volunteers are needed to help with the Hurricane Ian response in Florida. To sign up, click here.