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After Idalia, neighbors in Perry, Fla., share a spirit of hope and togetherness


The city of Perry, Fla., was hit hard by Hurricane Idalia. As in other communities in the Big Bend part of the state, the storm knocked out power, flooded roads, damaged homes and smashed businesses. After the winds and rain cleared last night, community members started counting up damages. And as WFSU's Regan McCarthy reports, neighbors came together to share a spirit of hope and togetherness.


REGAN MCCARTHY, BYLINE: In some parts of Perry, the sound of chainsaws is almost enough to drown out the usual singing of cicadas and tree frogs. Families, neighbors and out-of-towners are coming together to clear roadways and a path to recovery.

DENISE MANGO: It took a tough hit, a very tough hit.

MCCARTHY: Denise Mango says the aftermath of the storm looks bad, but she prefers to view things in a more positive light.

MANGO: The cup being half full, you know, or about empty - so it's all in their perception of what life is to how they're going to handle their situation. But, I mean, as far as the community, if we could come together as a whole, we could do it.

MCCARTHY: And in a gas station parking lot where a plume of smoke carries the smell of barbecue, that's exactly what's happening.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's good. That's the one there (ph). Oh, yeah.

MCCARTHY: Highway 19 Gas & Grill is one of the only open stores. The power's out, and rather than waste the food that might spoil, workers are in the parking lot cooking up a free feast for the community. Others have brought by bags of charcoal or helped clear the parking lot of debris.

MARY GRAMMLIN: We work together. We family here. We know everybody by name. We kiss the kids. We hug. We check on everybody. That's how we do it around here.

MCCARTHY: Mary Grammlin is helping to dish up to-go boxes for a growing line. She says in the 50 years she's lived in Perry, she's never seen a storm so devastating. Gramlin's coworker, Shawnda Palmer, says her house was damaged by the storm. Part of the roof lifted up, and one of the rooms flooded from the incoming rain. She doesn't have homeowner's insurance.

SHAWNDA PALMER: Most of this community don't unless they're paying a mortgage or a payment. We can't - I mean, you can't really afford that here. So, you know, it's just too hard. I mean, you barely make your bills.

MCCARTHY: In rural communities like this, it's not unusual for houses to be passed down through generations, meaning they're often owned outright. And since homeowner's insurance is so expensive in Florida, people often choose not to carry it when it's not required. That can make recovery an even longer and more difficult process, one Palmer says she's not sure can be done. But for her, standing behind a grill feeding her community feels like a good place to start. For NPR News, I'm Regan McCarthy in Perry, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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