On Day Five after Hurricane Irma, Alex and Josh Mann ran out of ice.
They’d heard rumors a day earlier that a neighbor had leftover ice to share. But none of their coolers were clean. They couldn’t pick any up.
Their food started to spoil.
So, on Friday, the Manns made their way to Marathon High School, where a driveway manned by soldiers and volunteers was stacked with water bottles, bleach, diapers. They walked out with cardboard boxes filled with military-style ready-to-eat meals. Maybe they’d gotten beef stroganoff again. Or potato soup.
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This is what daily life is like now in the Lower Florida Keys beyond Mile Marker 74, where no residents or business owners have been allowed back since Irma blew in on Sunday. The only people left — people like the Manns — rode out the storm and stayed there, knowing that living, at least for a while, would not be easy.
“We’ve been doing OK,” said Alex, 31, and inexplicably cheery, “because we prepped for two weeks.”
“We’re sort of survivalists,” chimed in Josh, 33.
Not that they’d recommend it.
“I don’t think someone who is unhealthy should do it,” Alex said. “It’s definitely not been fun.”
Josh sleeps on a porch hammock. He grills on a beloved iron skillet. The Manns feel lucky: They have running water — good for flushing, not for drinking — and their phones buzzed into life Thursday night.
“We made about 30 phone calls,” Josh said, to let family know they’re alive.
The power’s still out, but Josh has hope: The high school’s electric sign lit up Friday. Josh’s father lost his power to Irma, too — in Georgia.
Their food boxes in tow, the couple strolled Friday to their pale pink rental home, a modest 1979 two-story on a now clogged and stinky canal. They lost some shingles. Water flooded the first-floor garage and totaled their only car, a Hyundai Tiburon that was submerged above the tires. The landlord’s washer and dryer are goners, too.
Waiting for the food were a neighbor; the Manns’ two children, 13-year-old Jinn and 8-year-old Kira; and their five rescue dogs, Daru, Gambit, Rikku, Rune and Sydney — not exactly an easy crew to relocate during the Keys’ mandatory evacuation.
Plus, they’d just moved in a month earlier, on Aug. 6, and had weathered disasters before, including Hurricane Frances in West Palm Beach in 2004, when Jinn was 1, and the “snowpocalypse” in Atlanta in 2014, when Alex walked for miles to pick up Kira in school.
“The Keys are never hit like this,” Alex said. “People were saying, ‘No, it’s not a big deal.’ ”
“ ‘It’s going to turn like it’s always done,’ ” Josh said.
They spent the storm at a friend’s concrete-block home near the Marathon airport, grateful that they hadn’t yet bought a boat that would inevitably crash into the dock.
“I minimized the damage,” Alex said. “But there’s just not a lot you can do. The kids, they slept through most of it.”
“They’re more upset it’s hot,” Josh said.
Publix down the street opens for a couple of hours a day, staffed by the manager and volunteers. The local American Legion hosts dinners. Alex thought she saw suspicious cars in their neighborhood. Josh heard what sounded like gunshots. They told police and have since seen patrols.
A nearby block lined with mangroves is trashed with kayaks and A/C units and bicycles and sofas and chairs. There’s a sunken work truck, a chest of drawers, a refrigerator — and a massive hot tub, filled with smelly green seawater.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Josh said.
Unlike their neighbors desperate to get back to Marathon — to anywhere in the blocked-off Middle and Lower Keys — the Manns agree with local government leaders keeping people out.
“Right now, the infrastructure can’t hold people,” Josh said.
“We have water on this block, but its not habitable,” Alex said. “If you’re just coming back because you’ve got a vacation home here, don’t.
“Give it another week. Then, maybe.”
An earlier version of this story misstated that a green sticker on the Manns' home pertained to electric damage. Instead, the sticker signaled the home had been cleared by an urban search-and-rescue team.