Former Aspen public servants, now Florida Keys residents, deal with Irma’s damage

One day last week, former Aspen city manager Bob Anderson was on his way out of a doctor’s office in Glenwood Springs when he spotted a CNN report in the lobby that gave him pause. As he watched, he noticed one of the interview subjects was a neighbor of his in the Florida Keys.

“And we said, ‘Holy blank,’” he recalled.

The footage CNN showed was familiar territory to Anderson and his wife, Dina, who once was the librarian at Aspen Middle School: It was their neighborhood.

Upon returning to one of their daughter’s home in Glenwood, they tuned in again, but this time they scrutinized the newscast by viewing, frame by frame, the network’s fly-over footage of their neighborhood in the unincorporated community of Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys, some 23 miles north of Key West.

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They even used a magnifying class, holding it up to a still-shot on the television screen, and caught a brief gander of their double-wide trailer home, still intact, but its integrity compromised by the pounding winds of Hurricane Irma.

“It tore off both of our porches, and we thought they were solid,” Bob said. “And it pulled off a panel of our hurricane shudders. But we couldn’t tell if there were broken windows.”

Further investigation on the NOAA’s satellite website showed a porch ceiling blown off, with part of it possibly landing in the canal next to their home, Dina said in an email.

“One panel of our hurricane shutter is blown off possibly allowing water to enter if the door wall was compromised by the surge, wind or debris,” she wrote. “Three homes to the right is an older trailer totally demolished (looks like toothpicks). Yet, in our driveway was our golf cart exactly where we left it! Truly an amazing experience.”

The Anderson couple have three children with strong ties to the Roaring Fork Valley. Ann Marie Stolle is a nurse, Miranda Ballentine works for the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Chris “Dogger” Anderson is a sushi chef for Maru Restaurant in Aspen and Sabaku in Moab, Utah.

Dina, 69, and Bob, 71, were not in the Florida Keys when Irma struck last weekend.

As fate would have it, their summer visit to Colorado was postponed because Bob entered an Ernest Hemingway look-alike-contest in Key West, where the 20th-century author once resided. About 180 people entered, and Bob — beard and all — failed to crack the top 30 finalists, he said.

On Aug. 3, they left for the Roaring Fork Valley to visit relatives, later watching the wrath of Irma unleashed on the Caribbean islands and then Florida, with the Keys absorbing catastrophic damage.

“We would have evacuated early,” Bob said. “And we watched every moment as that thing was bearing down, hoping it would go left or right.”

They have only been able to rely on media reports; communication with neighbors has been near impossible.

“There is no cellphone (service). There is there no power,” he said. “We just get these little snippets” of information.

And there are times, such as earlier this week, when Bob’s feeling of helplessness overcame him.

“This has been unbelievably stressful,” he said. “Believe me, I’ve been through a lot of stress in my life, and I suppress it like guys do. But (Wednesday) morning, I just laid here and cried.”

But the Andersons believe they had good fortune when it comes to Irma. They’ve resided in the double-wide for about a year and half, Bob said, and Irma’s full impact was not felt because the hurricane’s eye — the storm’s calmest part — settled over their community, he said.

Anderson also jested that his time in the dual-role as both Aspen and Pitkin County’s manager hardened him for this recent experience.

He was manager from 1986 to 1990, during a time when the contentious development of the Ritz-Carlton — which is now the St. Regis Aspen — was being proposed.

In 1986, developer Mohamed Hadid shelled out $57 million for the prime real estate at the base of Aspen Mountain, beating Donald Trump to the punch.

“During the time of the building of the Ritz-Carlton, it was a big seismological shift for Aspen,” he said. “I’m a poor guy, and my big role was to keep a level playing field with half of the town despising what (Hadid) wanted to do. Here I am, trying to be the ringmaster in a little ring full of big elephants. And all the time I was reminding people that rich people have rights, too.”

In the meantime, Dina was the librarian at Aspen Middle School. They would later leave the valley, working as public servants in other towns and states. Bob said they would like to possibly return here one day, provided they can find a place they can afford to buy.

But for now, their focus is on the Florida Keys, where they plan to return this week.

“We’re not really big Florida fans, but the Keys are much more like being on a Caribbean island,” he said. “We love the music scene because I play the banjo, and I love to fish.”

He estimates the damage to their property, which is not insured, could go into the six-figure range.

The Anderson children also have set up a account to help their parents. The couple said they didn’t ask their children for the help.

“We are ever so grateful to them,” Dina said.