It's steamy hot in the modest living room of Marie Cevil, her mom and her three nieces, and it's not going to cool off anytime soon.
Cevil has spent a lot of money to improve her air conditioning over the years and, with Hurricane Frances gone, she had been waiting like so many Floridians for the power to come back so she could resume a normal life.
But as officials from West Palm Beach explained to her Monday, and she only gradually accepted, her home had so much water damage that it cannot be returned to the power grid until major repairs are done. To turn on the power for a home that had water inside it as high as the electrical sockets -- the case in her house and many others in Pineapple Park -- is to ask for an overload and electrical fire.
This was the news delivered Monday to Cevil and many of her neighbors by West Palm Beach construction services officer Dewey Palmer, who was going door to door assessing the damage from Frances. Cevil's house will need a lot of new electrical wiring and wall repairs before the power can be turned on, he said: "After damage like this, you can't just quickly pick up your old life."
"Oh, my. What can I do?" said the suddenly deflated woman, as she pictured months without power on top of the soaking that her hard-earned house and furnishings had already endured.
"My mom, she's 80 years old and can't stay here," Cevil said. "And the nieces, I'll have to find them another place. But me, I'm staying right where I am."
It will not be easy. Without power, food spoils and the electric stove is useless. Without power, it stays hot and humid at night, making sleep difficult, as Cevil has already learned. And without power, water cannot be boiled for safe drinking, which means standing in line to buy bottled water.
As the full weight of the news sank in, Marie Cevil buried her face in her hands.
Hurricanes inflict harm in an arbitrary way. The ability of people to recover from it is more predictable.
It was no surprise, for instance, that homes in low-lying Pineapple Park flooded well before those on higher land. Or that a canal floodgate that might have saved the neighborhood was not opened until after the area was under several feet of water. Pineapple Park is a neighborhood of modest homes, increasingly owned and rented by immigrants, who say they have been battling city officials for years to improve drainage.
"This area definitely has the worst damage I've seen," Palmer said as he continued his damage assessment. "I've seen single houses that took a bigger hit, but here, it's a whole neighborhood."
In all, more than 3 million customers remain without electricity, but some areas are far more severely damaged than others. Florida Power and Light, which serves about half of Florida's residents and much of the southeastern coast that was hit hardest, said Monday that about 1.5 million customers remained without power. The company said power had been restored to about 1.25 million other customers, but the area around West Palm Beach remained ground zero for electrical outages. As of 4 p.m., 538,000 of those without power were in the Palm Beach County area.
The company has said most service will be restored in three to seven days, but that seems unlikely to include areas like Pineapple Park. Just around the corner from Marie Cevil, Dotti and Roland Groudin are painfully aware that their neighborhood is in trouble.
They have lived in the area -- within walking distance of the fast-growing West Palm Beach downtown -- since building their house in 1982, and they pride themselves on their ability to prepare for hurricanes. The food in their refrigerator, after all, was still fresh because they had surrounded it with so much ice.
But early Sunday morning, as Frances passed, water seeped into the house in trickles and then torrents. "I was asleep on a chair in the living room, and something didn't seem right," said Roland Groudin. "When I put my feet on the ground, it was all wet. And then I could see we were getting flooded."
On Monday, relatives were pulling up the soaked carpet and moving out the soggy furniture. But they will have no electricity, and that means no hot water, no cooking beyond Sterno and no real life for the couple in their lovingly tended home.
"As I understand it, the power company wants to get to the easiest cases first and fix them up," Groudin said. "I think that means they won't be coming around here for a pretty long time."
Because they have insurance and relatives nearby, the Groudins said they will be okay. But many of their neighbors -- especially the Haitians, Central Americans and other relatively recent immigrants -- do not have the same level of insurance, or if they are renters, any insurance at all. During his assessment tour, Palmer said he was struck by how many people in Pineapple Park had lost their worldly goods, and how few had insurance to cover them.
After his meeting with Palmer, Lebien Bretoux, who owns the three-unit house next to Marie Cevil, was equally sobered by the prospect of having to make such extensive repairs before power could be restored and he could move back in. "At least I have places to go with my family," he said later. "But some of my tenants and the other people in the neighborhood, I guess they'll really just have to live in shelters for a while and start all over again."