2 widows still struggling with aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Women face challenges 1 year after devastating storm hit Jacksonville

By Ashley Harding - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

One year after Hurricane Irma caused record flooding, power outages and millions of dollars in damage across Northeast Florida, many families are still dealing with the devastation.

The nonprofit Endeavors Disaster Case Management introduced News4Jax to two women, both widows, who continue to struggle with what Irma did to their homes.

PHOTOS: 1 year ago: Hurricane Irma by the numbers

Claudette Thayer evacuated before the storm and still hasn't been able to move back into her home on Ribault Scenic Drive. The brick home looks like it's in great shape from the outside, but the rooms inside had to be gutted after severe flooding.

Paulette Brown has been able to live in her home since Irma hit, but it hasn't been easy. Nearly every room has leaks and the outside of her home is damaged.

The two women are being assisted by Endeavors, a nonprofit that offers a no-cost Hurricane Irma recovery service that includes developing long-term recovery plans, referrals to volunteer groups aiding in recovery and construction and repair cost analysis.

“When you are approaching the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma and looking at another active hurricane season, it can be easy to forget that recovery and rebuilding is still happening,” said Travis Pearson, CEO and president of Endeavors. “Our Disaster Case Management team works with individuals at no cost, connecting them to appropriate resources and creating recovery plans to ensure that they have a safe place to live.”

Thayer said it took Irma only minutes to destroy the home she built with her late husband. Sentimental items were ruined as well, like the Mercedes her husband bought before he passed away.

“I thought I could just come back as I have done for 30 years, but I couldn't come home this time,” Thayer said, crying. “Oh God! You just can't come home."

Thayer said water had to be pumped out of her home and her contractor found a major problem with the way the original floor was constructed when the home was built. She said that fix costs upward of $40,000.

Thayer, who has been out of work for just over a year after suffering a bad injury, is still fighting with the insurance company to get the necessary repairs made. She said they refuse to fix her porch.

“It really needs to be lifted up higher, so I can just step out with me being disabled now,” Thayer explained.

Thayer has also had to deal with other troubles – like thieves who broke into her home in July and made off with a washer, dryer, light fixtures, the contractor's equipment and even pulled her AC unit off the side of the house.

"I wouldn't wish this on anyone. It's really a devastation,” Thayer said. “You see it all the time, but if you got to walk it, that's when you really know. It's really something to go through."

Thayer, who has been living in the home of her cousin's daughter, said she hopes to be able to return home soon to where all of her memories are. She's been told that could be as early as next month.

"I just want to come home,” she said. “There's no place like home."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Thayer.

Leak woes, health struggles

For Brown, home has become a hazard -- with garbage bags covering her furniture to protect it from ceiling leaks.

She's so afraid her home will cave in one day that she spends a lot of her time at the table in the front of the house and near her porch.

The leaks aren't the only problem. Shingles are still on the ground, and Brown said she lost her insurance when her husband died several years ago. She's also been struggling health-wise.

"I had a heart attack about seven years ago, and then I had a little mini-stroke after that. And now this,” Brown said.

Brown's only source of income right now is Social Security, but she said she would like to have a part-time job to help get her house back in order.

A recent trip to the doctor, though, revealed she has poor circulation that causes serious pain in her legs and prevents her from standing up for long periods of time. She has to stop several times just walking the two blocks to her bus stop.

"I try not to cause another heart attack. That's all I'm trying to do, not to cause another heart attack,” Brown said. “Just hope the roof don't come in on me while I'm there. That's all I pray for."

Brown said if anyone has a part-time job that doesn’t require a lot of standing, she would be interested. Anyone who can help can email aharding@wjxt.com with information.

Endeavors' office is on Baymeadows Road in Jacksonville but the organization serves Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

For more information, contact supervisor Will Prioleau at 713-471-0949 or email wprioleau@endeavors.org.