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After Irma, a man on a mission

At the Jamison building at Town Shores of Gulfport, Doug Earle rose from a 15-minute nap Tuesday and headed down to the first floor to check on an elderly neighbor. As the last board member to stay behind during Hurricane Irma, Earle felt a responsibility to take care of everyone. With no power for days and temperatures in the high 80s, he knew that some were struggling in sweltering apartments.

HURRICANE IRMA AFTERMATH: After Irma, the hard part begins for Florida, Tampa Bay

A 93-year-old woman on the fourth floor was stuck up there because the elevators were not working. An 88-year-old had returned from the shelter and needed her hearing aids charged. He'd shown a blind woman how to turn on her burner with a lighter, so the 78-year-old could heat up some beef stew.

"My wife gets upset with me," said Earle, who is 67 and has Parkinson's disease. "She says I do too much. She's been calling me every hour, worried."

In the last few days, Earle, a retiree from New York who once ran a ball bearing manufacturing plant, had fielded more than 200 phone calls and 178 texts from neighbors and friends, some checking on him, many wanting updates on their properties.

How is the building? How is the power situation? What's happening?

He'd told them about the damaged carport and the destroyed tiki hut at the pool and that some of the air conditioning units had leaked water before he'd turned them all off.

One person — he can't remember who, because he'd been dead asleep — had even called at 2:30 in the morning as winds howled outside Monday and asked him to empty out her fridge.

Some people had power, next to others who did not. So he'd strung cords between apartments, helping to save fridges full of food. One man had run a generator that sent fumes into his neighbor's window. Earle coaxed him to move it down to the parking lot.

Tuesday afternoon, 93-year-old Ona Houghton, who is nearly blind, sat on a chair outside her fourth-floor apartment, trying to catch a breeze, when the lights flickered inside.

"Yippee," she said, clapping her hands.

Earle helped her with her fridge. Then he turned on the elevator and headed off to reset the air conditioners, planning to hit each of the 84 apartments.

Contact Leonora LaPeter Anton at [email protected] or (727) 893-8640.

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