- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

BAREFOOT BAY, Fla. (AP) — The mobile home at 411 Plover Drive — the one that today looks decidedly more like a squashed dollhouse — was, for most of 10 years, Patsy Gibson’s little piece of tropical heaven.

Mornings, her habit was to sit on the screened porch with a cup of tea and watch the sun lift out of the Atlantic in a bonfire of mauve, rose and orange. Evenings, she’d return to her Florida room, feeling the soft hand of the trades on her face and listening to the fronds of the tall, coconut palms crackling in the night.

“I’m from Harrisville, R.I., but I’ve always felt that I was home in Barefoot Bay,” she told a visitor recently. “Here, by the sea, I always felt safe, tranquil, at peace with nature.”

Until Hurricane Frances paid a visit.

The storm reduced dozens of mobile homes across this 175-acre, 4,988-unit community to piles of crunched walls and furniture. Mrs. Gibson, who had evacuated, returned to find the carport gone, her roof missing, and the front wall of the home split and sagging.

And then, not a week later, Jeanne came.

All four exterior walls lay spread out in the mud in its aftermath.

“The coup de grace,” Mrs. Gibson said.

The Treasure Coast, as they call this storm-gouged coastline between Daytona and Vero Beach, is full of such stories — of houses ravaged and then ravaged again, of retirements shortened, of dreams shattered and personal lives uprooted. Like so many other places in Florida, the first state to get pounded by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886, it is short on hope, long on fatigue, and increasingly concerned that the hurricane surge will be the norm, not the exception, for years to come.

Scientists, in fact, have confirmed those fears: They say marine and atmospheric conditions have shifted into a “stormy phase,” as will happen every generation or so, which means that Americans can expect multiple hurricanes to slam the Gulf and Atlantic coasts every year for the next 10, 20, even 30 years.

That’s too much for Mrs. Gibson, 63, a bartender at the Disney Resort in Vero Beach. Like so many transplants from the northeast and Midwest, she moved to Florida’s east coast for the tropical lifestyle, and now makes a living by catering to others who come for the weather.

Mrs. Gibson said she’s going to sell her property and move back north.

Even for those who remain to rebuild their lives in the storm-ravaged areas of Florida, they can’t help but wonder how much more they can take.

Nancy Eisele owned a fine mobile home at 846 Hawthorne Circle. Then Jeanne arrived. Now Mrs. Eisele’s home has no roof, no porch, no carport, no windows or doors.

“My house has been condemned,” she said.

“Have I thought about moving back to New York? The answer is yes. Will I do it now? No, not now. I’m committed here.”

“But, I’ll tell you, though, if this kind of stuff keeps up, I just might.”

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