PORT ST. JOE, Fla. – Dorothy Ingram’s hand trembles as she points to the damage Hurricane Michael wrought on her home: Smashed windows, the hole in the bathroom ceiling.
The “hell,” as she calls it, goes beyond structural damage to the injury she suffered trying to flee the storm making landfall just blocks away. She lumps this with other physical and emotional hells she’s experienced in her 87 years.
But it’s recovery she’s focusing on – resources at the American Red Cross shelter at St. James Episcopal Church; a visit with furry friends that still prowl her shattered neighborhood, now marred by snapped pine trees, dead power transmitters buried in sand piles, homes missing a whole story.
Ingram and her husband, Semman Abdelkader, have lived in the tidy prefab just two blocks from the beach for 20 years.
“My old German furniture, look at it; all my curtains, every one is gone. Isn’t that a shame?” Ingram says. “Here, the bedroom also. It’s a shame. And it smells.”
Nonetheless, she’s able to find something positive: “Ohhhh … But the cats are still alive!”
On a recent afternoon, Ingram was one of 20 remaining shelter residents who received a variety of assistance and resources through a multi-agency shelter transition team (MASTT). The MASTT is a one-stop site where disaster victims can interview with numerous agencies to jump-start their individual journeys toward recovery.
“I went through hell. And now, these people down here, they’re really nice,” Ingram says.
The MASTT included Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Florida Department of Children and Families and Red Cross caseworkers Charles Clegg from West Virginia and Carole Zahm from Michigan.
Clegg called the ability to link clients like Ingram with numerous resources at this stage in their recovery “a blessing.”
For Ingram, the interviews led to contacts with her doctor, a new battery for her hearing aid and connection with her son, who couldn’t reach her immediately after the storm because of strict I.D. checkpoints. It also prompted her to remember that their home insurance paperwork might just be safe.
On a visit home to look for those insurance papers, Ingram recounted the “hell” she’s gone through, weaving together the hurricane’s terror with a childhood spent partly in World War 2 occupied Germany.
Her search also uncovered a scrapbook of her proud track and field career at Howard University, cut short by a collision during an Olympics trials meet in France. Her resiliency reflects a lust for life. It shows through in the vibrant crocheted tapestries hung around their home and in awards she got for her Black Forest cake at a Mexico Beach bake-off.
Ingram and Abdelkader took time from their paperwork search to feed their beloved neighborhood cats. One small step on their road to normalcy:
“You would never let them go hungry,” she says.
The Red Cross is working one-on-one with victims of Hurricane Michael, helping guide them toward what they need to recover. This is made possible by the generosity of the American people.