Irma leaves one Florida area with deadly health crisis

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Emergency responders in the Everglades City area, a low-income fishing community in Naples, Florida, devastated by Hurricane Irma last weekend, are likely facing a deadly public health crisis. Since the hurricane, families have been spending time stuck in the mud, mold, and water left behind by 10 feet of storm surge that destroyed hundreds of homes.

The stormwater from Irma has been enveloped in toxicity, causing widespread infection. Half a dozen people were sent to the hospital, and one man lost his leg.

Another individual died Saturday. Lee Marteeny, 72, passed away at Physicians Regional hospital after doctors treated him for respiratory failure and internal bleeding, according to his wife, Lisa. Red sores and bumps on Marteeny’s legs, caused by years of poor circulation and heart disease, turned stark black after he was exposed to Irma’s floodwaters.

Marteeny aided Lisa in cleaning their destroyed trailer, which was thick with mud and mold on the walls from seeping water. With no shelter or temporary housing provided, the couple stayed in their trailer, a hot box without any proper ventilation or power. An ambulance transported Marteeny to the hospital Friday as his condition grew worse.

“He was crying and moaning in agony,” Lisa Marteeny, 62, said Sunday in between bursts of tears. “I thought maybe they’d just need to keep him overnight.”

On Saturday, he was pronounced dead. As of Sunday, Marteeny’s cause of death was not disclosed, and his wife Lisa hadn’t yet been given a report from the Collier County medical examiner.

Conditions in Everglades City are ripe for infections that could turn fatal, said Dr. Robert Tober, medical director for Collier County EMS. “I certainly can’t conclude that because his legs were exposed to dirty water, he is now dead,” Tober said. “But those conditions certainly enhance the risk.”

David Curry, 80, cut his leg on a piece of wood while doing clean-up work following the storm. It was a small scrape, and he thought nothing of it, said Josh Lewis, one of Curry’s tenants. However, two days later, Curry was in critical condition at a hospital with a life-threatening infection that ravaged his vital organs, shutting down both kidneys, said Susan Simoes, Curry’s daughter. Doctors were forced to amputate the leg Friday.

“I’m just blown away by the whole thing,” Simoes said. “He would have lost his life had he not gotten that amputated.”

According to Alberto Moscoso, communications director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, 34 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Irma across the state.

Reporters interviewed dozens of residents last week who have spent hours each day working in the mud and sludge. Many of these people are barefoot or in flip-flops, attempting to salvage what’s left of their homes and property.

“I don’t think anybody can be left with their feet in sewage water,” Tober said. “Nobody can be standing in water, certainly not water that’s grossly infected.”

Paramedics sent a little girl to the hospital after a paper cut got infected and advanced up her wrist. They treated another child with an oozing laceration in his leg. The mayor’s mother is in the hospital with an infection she developed after the storm.

“It’s basically sewage down here,” said Mackenzie Yates, an EMT stationed near the firehouse. “We’re definitely dealing with bacteria.”

Standing sewage water can crack skin on people’s legs, creating open wounds at high risk of infection. Mold in homes tends to irritate lungs and could cause respiratory infections.

“High 90s, super humid, it’s like a petri dish for mold,” said Frank Zeigon, an insurance claims consultant in California. He said people working in those conditions should be wearing hazmat gear to prevent infection. “It’s devastating.”

Some were even sleeping in it, like Lisa and Lee Marteeny.

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