|Date:||November 23, 2016|
KISSIMMEE — Below his tarp-covered roof and bare-rafter ceiling, Phillip Mook starts his days by using his laptop to track bad weather. Then he gets on the phone.
"If there's a bad rainstorm, my house is going to be destroyed," said the 46-year old Hurricane Matthew victim who has spent dozens of hours seeking aid.
It's been more than six weeks since winds from Matthew ripped off half the roof of the mobile home where he has lived with his adult son for almost two years. Draped in sheets of blue plastic, their single-wide trailer stands as a lingering reminder that Matthew left its mark on Florida but did too little damage to qualify for federal disaster aid.
More than a month after Matthew ripped up the Atlantic coastline, Florida residents still grapple with an estimated $606 million in damages. By the end of October, 43 percent of the 100,589 insurance claims had been closed. The Mooks have no homeowners insurance — a protection not required in the state, although most mortgage holders require it.
Two years ago, Mook and his oldest son returned to Florida from a small town in Ohio after a home invasion that left Mook's wife, Lydia Colon, and their 22-year-old son dead. His older son was critically injured during the shooting and remains on disability.
Matthew's force dismantled Mook's roof, as rain saturated their bedrooms, living room and kitchen. Mook tore down soaked ceiling tiles and wallboard. Wet bedding, clothes, furniture and insulation had to go. Neighbors on Greenskeep Drive helped secure the metal roof so that the father and son could have some semblance of a roof, but it still awaits permanent repairs.
On Monday morning, two volunteers with the First Baptist Church of Kissimmee and its Band of Brothers group stood next to Mook's 1981-manufactured home, discussing what needed to be done and how they could accomplish it with volunteer labor. They hope home improvement retailers, such as Lowe's or Home Depot, will donate materials.
"A roof-over is the simplest fix," said Chuck Shephard, a retired Osceola County deputy with experience working disaster recovery.
But the path to get First Baptist's help was difficult, which Shephard finds common.
Federal Emergency Management Agency referred him to Florida's disaster-recovery agency. Workers there directed him to Osceola County Emergency Management, and he said he left a half dozen phone messages there. He tried the Red Cross, but that nonprofit sent him to the United Way, which suggested he go back to the Red Cross.
One group could not assist him because he was not a senior citizen and another could only offer food — not repairs.
Mook said he finally found an email for a county-level disaster specialist, Stephen Watts.
Watts recalled getting an email from Mook on Oct. 19. He visited the home.
"He had applied to FEMA as an individual, but because there wasn't enough damage in Osceola, the county didn't qualify for disaster assistance," Watts said. "He was the hardest hit in Osceola — of those who contacted the county."
Mobile homes were not the greatest casualty in the hurricane, but older models of the metal-wrapped domiciles can prove particularly vulnerable during high winds. Throughout the state, about 8 percent of the 69,935 homeowners who filed Matthew-related insurance claims had mobile homes.
Several weeks passed with no sign of any help for Mook and his son. A drought has saved them from rain seeping through cracks in the tarp, but any warmth from space heaters quickly escapes the punctured trailer.
Property owners with insurance often forgo contacting emergency agencies and work through the recovery process themselves. Others tend to fall through the cracks — and most, Shephard said, never find their way to the right place to get aid.
"I've learned from doing disaster relief ... if people have to make three phone calls but get no response, they usually give up," Shephard said.