A teen’s travelswith Charley | PostIndependent.com

A teen’s travelswith Charley

Post Independent Writer

By Carrie ClickPost Independent StaffFifteen-year-old Stephen Stuthers understands first-hand what kind of devastation a monster storm like Hurricane Frances, which pummeled south Florida over the Labor Day weekend, can wreak. Three weeks ago, Stephen, who moved with the rest of his family to Glenwood Springs from Port Charlotte, Fla., on July 1, traveled back to Florida to help in cleanup efforts after a previous massive tropical storm, Hurricane Charley, pounded southwest Florida. Charley caused 27 deaths and an estimated $7.4 billion in insured damage.By Sunday afternoon, Hurricane Frances, which doesn’t appear to have caused near the damage as Charley, had been downgraded to a Category 1 storm, the worst of its wrath seemingly over. Still, nearly 4 million people remained without power in Palm Beach, Orange and Indian River counties in the central east coast portions of the state. ‘They need me’Hurricane season has hit particularly hard this year, but that wasn’t the case when the Stuthers family – mom Terri, dad Stuart, and sons Jesse and Stephen – lived in Florida.Terri said in the few years the family lived in Florida, they never experienced a hurricane.The family’s move to Glenwood – they fell in love with Colorado when visiting relatives here – fortuitously occurred less than a month before Hurricane Charley hit their former neighborhood in Port Charlotte. But when Stephen saw the devastation Charley had caused, he asked his parents if he could go back and help in cleanup efforts. “Stephen was watching the news when he said, ‘They need me,'” said Terri. Stephen’s parents bought their son an airline ticket, and once in Florida, Stephen met up with his best friend, Ryan Michaud. Together the two of them worked side by side helping in the cleanup by removing fallen trees from roadways and from pools where trees had landed, among other efforts.”Most people think I only went there to see friends, which isn’t true,” Stephen said. “(Ryan and I) would go out with a chain saw cutting down trees and piling them up beside the road.” Cold showersStephen’s trip to the Port Charlotte-Punta Gorda area was an intense journey into the aftermath of a major disaster.”I’ve never seen so many cops before in one town,” Stephen said. “There were police, ambulances and emergency vehicles from all over the state, plus the U.S. Army was everywhere.” “Almost every house had roof damage,” he said, describing many of the photos he took of the devastation. “Every business was damaged or completely destroyed, every tree was either out of the ground or broken in half. There was no electricity, unless you owned a generator, and the telephone poles were down, blocking roads.”The basic comforts people living in modern Florida automatically expect – like refrigeration and air conditioning – weren’t available.”Food would go bad unless we kept it in ice,” he said. “Luckily the place I was staying still had running water, which was good for cold showers, but not drinking water. Usually, we used melted ice, by boiling it on the grill, for brushing our teeth and washing vegetables.”A big helpStephen said bottled water was available everywhere for free, and some meals were provided.”Lunch for us would be an M.R.E. (meals ready to eat),” he said. “Often we went out for dinner to whatever was open but all most restaurants had to eat was sandwiches.” Once night fell, there wasn’t much to do.”After dark, we couldn’t do anything. There were curfews at 9 for safety,” Stephen said. “After dark, we’d play a board game. One time we went to play cards with an old couple across the street under a candle.” Now back in Glenwood and back at football practice at Glenwood Springs High School, Stephen is glad he went to Florida to help out, though he’s characteristically modest. “I felt like a big help, although my share of help was nothing compared to the entire town that needed cleaning up,” he said. Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com

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