In Hurricane-Weary Town, 'I'm Just Tired of It'

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla., July 12 -- Summer Schuler, a 16-year-old with the sunny optimism of youth, wrapped her arms around her crying mother Tuesday and assured her that things were not as bad as they seemed.

Big chunks of the new roof of their three-bedroom pastel-blue wood home lay in tatters around them -- shredded, scattered and soaked by Hurricane Dennis when it crashed through this barrier-island community on Sunday.

Plastic piping, a toppled basketball goal, stray china and wood planks with jutting nails littered the yard and carport. Large chunks of the family's new wooden fence had collapsed, and two feet of brackish water had inundated the ground floor of the two-story home.

"Mom, we are so lucky," said Summer, noting that the storm had been even less kind to some neighbors. "It's okay -- we are very lucky."

Vicki Schuler, 51, her voice breaking with her first glimpses of the damage, whispered, "I'm just tired of it."

So many residents in Florida's Panhandle were tired of it Tuesday. Hurricane Ivan had stomped through the region in September, and many homes and businesses here were still wearing blue tarpaulins over their scars from that storm when Dennis roared ashore at 120 mph.

Tired of the destruction. Tired of the power outages. Tired of the lines for food and gas and water and ice.

As residents streamed home to check out the damage, they endured hot, humid weather and fraying patience. They found downed power lines, sand-clogged roads, and houses that looked as if they had been flayed with a giant hatchet. Most businesses remained closed Tuesday, and 170,000 homes in the Florida Panhandle remained without power, down from 225,000 on Monday night, utility companies said.

Dennis marked the continuation of an ordeal for the Schulers. Ivan punched a hole in the family's roof and also poured six feet of water and muck into a portion of the house that serves as an apartment for Vicki Schuler's 74-year-old mother-in-law, Ann.

Schuler, a high school math teacher, and husband Charlie, 52, an administrator at Pensacola Junior College, spent 10 months and $60,000 trying to get things back to normal after Ivan. They still had a couple months of work ahead when Dennis hit.

"We were doing it on our own because most of this wasn't covered" by insurance, Schuler said. "My husband would come home every day and start hammering and nailing. We didn't think that we could afford a contractor. Everything you do, you sweat to death. We learned how to bathe in rivers. And now we have to do it all over again."

The Schulers will move back into a small house they own in Navarre, the one they stayed in for three months after Ivan struck, working on repairs. They again will endure a three-hour round-trip commute to school and work, and they will spend countless hours dealing with insurance adjusters and bureaucrats in federal and state agencies.

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