IONA, Fla. - “I walked outside because I heard some rumbling and I saw the clouds coming through,” says Ronald Schwichtenberg, describing the moment he realized heavy storms were about to hit his community at Century 21 Mobile Park.
It was a day that he or any of the families who lived there would ever forget.
“Homes completely destroyed, roofs gone…it’s really, really bad,” adds Gerry Avery, Vice President of the Homeowners Association.
“There’s just no words…it’s just terrible,” Ronald says grimly.
The devastation that resulted from the storms was some of the worst that they've ever seen.
“This damage we have in our park is worse than what we had with Irma,” recalls Sandy Schavanne, a resident.
“Everybody saw funnel clouds but I didn’t because I was hiding, and then we evacuated.”
And so did many others - choosing to gather their belongings and their families and leave the park.
“Never been involved in anything like this…my poor neighbors,” Ronald says as he fought back tears.
But many of those neighbors chose to stay behind - assisting Lee County EMS and Fire services with clearing the debris. Fallen branches littering the ground, and huge sheets of metal wrapped around trees, stretching for as far as the eye could see.
“People are upset but we’re going to pull together as a community. There’s no doubt in my mind. We’re not going to have a clubhouse for a while…some pretty heavy damage,” comments Sandy, reflecting on the community clubhouse that was ripped apart in the storms.
That sense of community acting as the glue that holds the park together.
“This is a tight community and everyone will look out for everyone that needs help,” says Ronald, hopefully.
“That’s the way our park is - we all help each other. That’s why a lot of people want to live in this park - it’s a wonderful park to live in,” adds Gerry, proudly.
And despite the darkness of the day, residents acknowledged that while items could be replaced...life could not.
“Nothing is that valuable. Life is more valuable,” says Gilda Suarez, an administrator for the park, candidly.
“God is with us. God is with us - we will be okay,” Suarez adds, smiling.
Other members of the community are stepping up to help - Sweet Magnolia's Coffeehouse is a nonprofit food truck charity that will be serving meals starting tomorrow to those at Century 21 from 2 to 3pm. Nearby Tropicana Mobile Park, which was also affected, will also be served.