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Five Hours to Destroy a Lifetime’s Building

“It took 25 years to get things like we wanted. It took only five hours for all of it to be destroyed,” Roland Benton, patriarch of the Benton clan, said, while standing next to a big red tractor behind his son Bobby’s house in Sneads, Florida. Roland was using the tractor to cart away debris removed by Team Rubicon volunteers who were gutting part of the house. 

Three houses and a barn stand on Benton’s 40 acres, and all three houses were damaged during Hurricane Michael. Trees were uprooted throughout the yard, and outbuildings, including the barn, lost their roofs. The Benton’s two horses and female donkey survived the storm intact, but by the time Hurricane Michael’s fury subsided, they had been joined by an extra donkey and small herd of cows that had escaped from neighbors’ pastures and barns.  



The extended family of seven—grandmother, grandfather, two sons, one daughter-in-law, and two grandsons—huddled in the main house atop the hill, and as Roland explained, “The house held up well for four hours. But in the fifth hour, the inner walls were shaking and I thought we were done for. The house started tearing up.”  

Bobby’s house, the one closest to the main house, lost part of its roof and sustained water damage, destroying a bathroom and a bedroom. Team Rubicon removed what was left of the ceiling before it could fall on someone. Roland said Bobby’s house was uninsured and was where he and his wife Linda raised the kids, before eventually buying the other house in Tallahassee and moving into the property. 

Bobby’s twin brother Billy, a sheriff’s investigator who lives further down the hill and closest to the pastures, also lost the roof on his house, had blown out windows, and sustained extensive water damage. His wife Jennifer, a nurse and case manager for a health care company, said that their house was only six years old. “When we came in that night after everything calmed down, the water was just pouring in,”  Jennifer said. The insurance company declared their manufactured house a total loss, and Jennifer said that has affected not only her personal life but also her job, as she works from a home office and then drives to visit clients. Power had been turned back on days before (more than two weeks after the storm) so she was trying to get caught up on her caseload because, as she said, some of her clients have it even worse than her family does. The family at least had motorhomes and campers to move into on the property. Thousands of area residents had to relocate to shelters.  



Team Rubicon volunteers had been mucking and gutting Jennifer and Billy’s house for three days. The saturated carpet had been ripped out. Damaged wall boards had been excised. Kitchen cabinets had been unscrewed and taken down. “My husband ran into Team Rubicon at Chipola College,” Jennifer explained. (Chipola College has been housing TR and is the site of the forward operating base for Operation Amberjack, The college itself is closed and its classes canceled because some of its buildings were in need of repair due to Hurricane Michael.)    

As Jennifer booted up her computer to try to get some work done for her clients while the Team tore things apart around her, she said, “This experience and time have been very overwhelming. TR is wonderful people. You can write that 300 times because you’re all that wonderful.”

Jill L. Ferguson is an artist, consultant, entrepreneur and author of eight books, most recently of the book Creating a Freelance Career (Routledge, August 2018).