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A Florida family turned Hurricane Ian debris into a festive Christmas garbage pile

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hurricane Ian left tons of debris on Florida sidewalks. Kerry Sheridan of WUSF reports homeowners are adapting.

KERRY SHERIDAN, BYLINE: Kathy and David Thomas live in a suburb in Sarasota. It's the kind of neighborhood you'd normally describe as well-manicured - tidy, pastel homes, pristine sidewalks.

KATHY THOMAS: We have all these beautiful royal palms.

SHERIDAN: Kathy says when Hurricane Ian tore through in late September, they and other trees got a haircut.

K THOMAS: Other than that, we didn't have any damage to the house. But our friends down in the south certainly did.

SHERIDAN: The Thomases and their neighbors lost palm fronds. Piles about as tall and wide as SUVs line the streets. A month passed, then another. Thanksgiving came and went. The debris was still there. The Thomases' minds turned to Christmas.

DAVID THOMAS: And we were just sitting on the porch one night. And I was saying, how do you want to decorate this year? And I said, I know. I'll decorate the pile out front.

K THOMAS: And we laughed. And I said...

D THOMAS: Do it.

K THOMAS: ...Let's do it just for fun.

SHERIDAN: David cast white lights over the brown fronds. They put up a sign that says let it snow and an American flag on top.

D THOMAS: I tried to make it look like a boat.

SHERIDAN: Like a boat (laughter)?

D THOMAS: Sailing the stormy seas (laughter).

SHERIDAN: A neighbor took a picture. A Tampa weatherman posted it on social media. And soon, the Thomases' decorated debris was shared thousands of times.

K THOMAS: It isn't that you can control the things that come in, but how do you deal with it.

D THOMAS: Yeah. Smile. This is so much easier than the other way.

(LAUGHTER)

SHERIDAN: The Thomases are happy that their decorated debris spread joy. But they were also ecstatic to see it go. Just yesterday afternoon, two men in orange vests loaded it and the neighbors' debris into the back of a massive truck and hauled it away.

For NPR News, I'm Kerry Sheridan in Sarasota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kerry Sheridan
Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.