Some residents say they ‘will have nothing to go back to’ after hurricane caused extensive damage

Burned rubble where a house once stood in Signal Cove, Hudson, Florida. Photograph: Miguel J Rodriguez Carrillo/AFP/Getty Images

For Evelyn and Thomas Rhodes, the sign they had to flee their home was when a bed started to float off the floor.

Ashley Nicole Nguyen of Pasco county, Florida has now started a GoFundMe to try to support the Rhodeses – her grandmother and uncle – who escaped the rising waters from Hurricane Idalia unharmed but have lost many of their possessions.

“[They] were asleep when the storm came through around 5am. Then [Thomas] noticed that his bed started to float,” said Nguyen.

The couple were taken by the fire department to their nearest friend’s house with their small dog.

“But everything is completely destroyed, all of [Nicole’s] belongings, televisions, furniture, as well as everything else on that street,” said Nguyen. She said her uncle’s workplace, a nearby restaurant, was completely destroyed by flooding.

“They will have nothing to go back to, and she also lost her cat due to the storm. He is believed to have drowned because he was an indoor cat and does not know the neighborhood.”

Similar scenes were play out across a broad swathe of Florida after Idalia carried with it a storm surge of up to 16ft (4.8m) as it struck the north-western coast, the state’s Big Bend region. The hurricane’s impact set record high water levels across a 200-mile (322km) stretch to Tampa, causing extensive damages in coastal communities of Perry, Steinhatchee and Cedar Key.

The storm made landfall on Wednesday morning as a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds nearing 125mph.

According to Mike Carballa, the Pasco county administrator, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 local homes sustained hurricane damage. Insured property losses were estimated by UBS to run to $9.36bn. Several roads and bridges into affected communities are still not accessible, as emergency crews clear debris and downed trees from roadways.

As authorities continue to assess damages in the Big Bend region, residents who have lost their homes are in limbo, awaiting relief and assistance to begin to retrieve what they can from their homes.

Heather and David Durst of Hudson, Florida, completely lost their home to an Idalia-induced fire. Their children have set up a GoFundMe to help assist in their efforts to begin to rebuild, replace their personal items, and cover temporary housing expenses.

“We don’t know what happened exactly. We retreated next door, came outside and our neighbor realized our house was on fire. We tried to put it out, weren’t able to, [so] we called 911,” Heather Durst told the New York Times.

Ron DeSantis’s anti-immigration policies in Florida are undermining the recovery and rebuilding of hard-hit areas. On 1 July, SB 1718 signed into law by DeSantis went into effect, which imposes restrictions and penalties aimed at deterring employers from hiring undocumented workers.

“Floridians will need thousands of skilled disaster-recovery workers to rebuild their homes after Idalia, but because of Governor DeSantis, they may not get them,” said Saket Soni, executive director of Resilience Force, an advocacy group for workers who respond to climate disasters.

The group said over half its members reported they would not be deploying to Florida to assist in Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts due to the high risk of deportation.

Soni said: “Resilience workers are overwhelmingly immigrants – and DeSantis’s anti-immigrant attacks successfully drove them out when they were still rebuilding from Hurricane Ian’s unprecedented destruction.’

“Florida must repeal its draconian anti-immigrant laws now to avoid making the crisis of Idalia even worse.”

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