Hurricane Irma: The Human Impact

Counselor shares a few personal stories of promo professionals affected by Irma.

Key West Character
The spirit of San Francisco lives in Rick Davis’ soul. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the weather. Davis loves the creative, eclectic vibe of his hometown, but the climate is just too chilly for him. He was in search of a place that combined the Golden City’s spirit with warmer year-round temperatures. Davis found what he was looking for in Key West.

>>Don't miss: To Hurricane Hell & Back

“It has San Francisco’s wonderful atmosphere, but in the tropics,” says Davis. “I fell in love with the place.”

That’s why Davis sold a printing company he was operating in Texas and relocated to Key West, where less than a year ago he opened Key West Printing. Sadly, Davis wasn’t in his adopted locale long before he experienced its biggest potential downside: A major hurricane.

When Irma swept into the Keys, the fierce winds destroyed Davis’ yacht, which happened to be his permanent residence. Thankfully, Davis and people close to him were able to escape Irma’s wrath by sheltering in the hurricane-proof building that houses his business. “At first, naturally, we were terrified,” says Davis. “But we soon realized that we didn’t have to be as long as we were in the building. It may sound strange, but inside the building you could hardly tell there was a storm going on.”

Of course, once the winds rumbled away and Davis emerged from the building, the scale of the storm’s destructive impact became clear – evidenced by the many destroyed boats in the nearby marina. Still, Davis said something remarkable happened in Irma’s aftermath. “Once it was over, the healing process started immediately,” he says. “People who lost everything were doing everything they could to help each other.”

Photos: Damage from Hurricane Irma

From a restaurant owner giving out free food to neighbors helping clear debris and fallen trees from properties, the outreach was pervasive and constant, the people undeterred by the searing heat and stifling humidity that afflicted the island which, for a time, had no electricity to power air conditioners.

“The day after the hurricane, after a bunch of us were out for hours in the heat helping with clean up, we went back to (a local’s home) and had a little pool party and barbecue to cool down and relax,” says Davis, who had secured temporary living accommodations following his boat’s destruction. “That says a lot about the spirit of this place. This city proved to me there are wonderful people in the world.”

Because of the character of Key West and its people, Davis is confident that the community will rebound – as will, he believes, his business, which primarily services local customers. “Nobody I know is closing down because of Irma,” he says. “Before long, you won’t even know there was a hurricane here.”

Right Back to the Presses
Tommy Kraus drew a deep breath to compose himself, then continued the story. “The eye of the storm hit only about 20 miles from here,” says Kraus, his voice a bit shaky at the thought. “It was a very close call.”

Kraus was speaking about Hurricane Irma from his business, Keys Custom Tees (asi/242444), located in Islamorada on the Florida Keys. It was only a few days after the historic storm had roared through. While some areas were filled with, as Kraus pointed out, “just devastation,” the Keys’ businessman was feeling profoundly grateful that his home and business were in good condition. Kraus and his family made the fortuitous finding after returning from the Florida peninsula, where they’d evacuated to ride out the storm. “We were personally very lucky, but there are a lot of people not in the same boat,” says Kraus.

Eager to help, Kraus and his family were among the locals contributing to relief efforts. His teenage sons were out volunteering for days on end, helping neighbors with clean-up. And, perhaps a bit incredibly given Irma’s intensity, Kraus was open for business and receiving orders within about a week of the storm cycloning north. Indeed, he and his team were busy printing shirts for landscapers, construction companies and others. “As soon as I opened the doors, the orders started coming,” Kraus says. “I’ve even had people say they used companies off the island, but now they want to work with someone local.”

While mindful that Islamorada, its people and its businesses have a hill to climb, Kraus was optimistic that the community would pull through – together. “There are special people down here,” he says. “We’re going to take care of each other.”

Escape to Ohio & the Journey Home
The different forecast models Lisa Fleck closely studied came together to form a single grim prediction: Her community on Big Pine Key, FL, was likely to be walloped by Irma.

Rather than buckle, Fleck flew into action, convincing locals to evacuate and helping people find accommodations outside the island where they could pass the storm in safety. Part of her effort included serving as a conduit between Keys’ residents and a friend in Orlando who was able to house dozens of evacuees. “If the inordinate amount of time I spent away from work and income helped save one life, then it will all have been worthwhile,” says Fleck, CEO of HMS Promo Products.

By the time the formal evacuation orders came, Fleck and her husband Don had already buttoned up their home and retreated to a second residence they maintain in Ohio. While there, Fleck was able to continue working. That was important, given that she was in the midst of orchestrating the final stages of a six-figure order for her client, 20/20 Management Solutions. 20/20 was under agreement to support a licensed California cannabis manufacturer who was nearing the launch of Hello Mello, a precision pre-roll cannabis product. “It’s not their fault that my life was going crazy because of a hurricane,” says Fleck. “They needed this done, and I had to get it done for them.”

Of course, Fleck’s mind was never far from the Keys. Social media groups allowed her to connect with other island residents who were enduring similar experiences. Through online channels she was also able to confirm that people she was concerned about were safe, and to review aerial photographs taken by private pilots that seemed to indicate her home was OK.

Between work and monitoring the Keys, Fleck and her husband prepped to take a load of supplies back to their home island, filling up a U-Haul trailer with necessities such as food, gas and water. Ultimately, once the weather cleared and it was feasible, the pair embarked for home, trailer in tow. It was a long, sleepless journey, during which Fleck spent time using a hot spot to continue conducting business.

Nonetheless, after traffic travails and other challenges, they reached home to encounter Irma’s work firsthand. It was a blow. Water was not drinkable. Power poles were snapped like twigs, and there was likely to be no electricity for a few weeks. As counterparts in Texas also experienced, looters were on the prowl. “I ‘deterred’ a van with two guys not from our street by strolling out front casually holding a shotgun after they cruised to the end of our street and turned around,” says Fleck. “They said they were looking for a house they rented, but I didn’t buy it. I told the police.”

Despite it all, however, Fleck was fortunate. Her home – out of which she works – had sustained damage, but remained structurally sound. “We were among the lucky ones,” says Fleck, who was confident that, working together, Big Pine Key would heal and move on.

“When I say the Keys are a family of islands, I mean people treat each other like family,” says Fleck. “Everybody helps everybody, no more so than when we’re up against something like this. There’s a quote I like, ‘Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You can not withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’ That’s us down here. To a large degree you determine your own fate and destiny. We will overcome this.”

Hurricane Maria Devastating For Puerto Rican Distributors

In September, not long after Irma and Harvey, Hurricane Maria savaged islands in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory where there are about 100 ASI-listed distributors, was among the worst affected locations.

The storm kocked out power, destroyed homes and businesses, and rendered commerce all but impossible for distributors still reeling from Irma’s impacts. Highlighting the plight was an email away message from Silvia Gonzalez of San Juan-based The Printer Lion (asi/299504). The company had already been without power for two weeks from Irma when Maria made landfall.

“We are making every effort to work and submit orders our standard way, but sometimes it is just not possible,” wrote Gonzalez. “We appreciate your patience and ask that you work with us through this emergency. It seems like it will take some time to recover.”

Email:; Twitter: @ChrisR_ASI