FORT MYERS, FL—In what forecasters are predicting will be the largest, most devastating disaster to hit Florida since the national economy collapsed, a Category 5 hurricane neared the Gulf coast this week, threatening thousands of repossessed and long deserted homes.
According to meteorologists, the incoming tropical storm could leave as many as 3 million residents every bit as homeless as they've been for the past year or so.
"Those who haven't already lost everything to the housing-market crash are urged to evacuate their homes immediately," said Robert Menken, head meteorologist at the National Weather Bureau. "That should be about 10 or 12 of you. Everyone else, please stay where you are, probably on the couch of some in-law who lives near Atlanta."
In preparation for the hurricane's landfall, the Emergency Broadcast System issued a number of safety warnings early Sunday. Due to expected high winds and torrential rain, citizens are advised to keep their windows and doors boarded up, as they pretty much have been through most of 2009.
In addition, any cars that have not been repossessed by local banks, or sold in a frantic daze by debt-ridden residents, are to be kept off the streets to prevent any further damage.
Floridians currently living out of their cars are likewise being ordered to pray for the best.
"I can't believe I would have had to leave my house behind had I not been evicted nine months ago," said Dale West, one of countless citizens who grabbed family members and rushed to the safety of a nearby church basement last April. "Just think of all the things I could have potentially lost had I still had them!"
"Dear God," West added. "How could something like this have already happened to me?"
The massive mile-wide storm system is expected to cause more than $120 million in damage to recently seized property, destroy hundreds of acres of highly leveraged land, and knock out power to thousands of homes that have been totally dark for weeks now.
Massive floods are also expected in the next few days, threatening to cut off dozens of unused roads and destroy prized possessions long ago abandoned and forgotten about.
"It's a ghost town around here," said Fort Myers native Carol Hodge, who saw some of the neighborhood's last few squatters flee on Monday. "Or, rather, more of a ghost town. People haven't really lived in this county since 2008."
At press time, emergency crews from seven Florida counties and representatives from FEMA had already been dispatched to the default-ravaged state, though many said they believed the damage would be insurmountable.
"We rushed here as fast as we could, but it looks like we're too late," Bradenton EMT John Sarvis said as he looked over countless For Sale sign–riddled lawns and vacant model homes. "All the way from Vero Beach to Fort Lauderdale, it's an absolute wasteland. I doubt anyone will ever be able to live here again."