Hurricane Ian came ashore just over two months ago near Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Florida. Favorite vacation and seasonal destinations such as Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, Pine Island, and Matlacha were devastated. Nearby communities of Punta Gorda and North Port which were in the path of the category 4 storm were drenched with unrelenting rain and extreme winds nearing 150 miles per hour.
In my other blog stories, I often went somewhere to “feel” the story so it could be written with authenticity. The difference in this story is that in this adventure, Hurricane Ian came to me. At least 146 people perished in this massive storm.
Author note: with my appreciation, the photos used in this story were taken by several people including Bri Barker, Nathan Wood, and myself. Published photos were provided by The Free Press, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and The Indianapolis Star.
I was not in Florida when the hurricane arrived. I had a visit with family and friends in Pennsylvania already planned. I did, however, move my departure date from Florida ahead by a day. Even at that, I got the last airplane to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before the Southwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Myers was closed. I left my car in the exposed long-term parking lot and didn’t know what I’d find when I returned.
During the week I was in Pennsylvania, I heard stories of desolation and desperation from many whom I was able to contact. My apartment is located in the Calusa Harbour (“Calusa”) building in Fort Myers which is on land next to the Caloosahatchee River. Calusa management had a disaster plan that considered a storm surge of 12 feet. Ian, however, had a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet more. Downtown Fort Myers was flooded and in the adjacent marina, pleasure boats costing millions of dollars were destroyed.
Cars left in the Calusa lot were submerged and became part of the 358,000 that are estimated by CarFax to have been “totaled or damaged” by the hurricane. Water entered the Calusa on the first-floor level. However, the disaster plan didn’t account for portions of the roof being ripped away and the subsequent rain that drenched the top three floors of the 20-story tower. My apartment was on the 16th floor and avoided damage but those around mine were condemned by local and state health and engineering professionals.
Before returning to Florida from Pennsylvania, I checked if the Fort Myers airport had reopened. It hadn’t. The airport became a military staging point for crucial supplies and helicopters for evacuations of many stranded on devastated islands.
American Airlines accommodated everyone flying to Fort Myers to choose an alternate Florida destination without incurring any additional costs or fees. I chose to go to Tampa and stay at an Airbnb for two weeks. I would use the time to retrieve my car and determine where to go since all the Calusa residents were asked to get themselves and their belongings out of their apartments immediately so structural repairs could begin.
Calusa management hired a natural disaster renovation team. Tenants were told that renovations would take at least five months. To me, five months seemed to be unrealistic for the Herculian effort that was needed. Instead of going to a temporary apartment on Florida’s Atlantic coast to which I had been assigned, I elected to pack up at the Calusa and move to another of the “Five Star Senior Living” facilities in Palm Harbor (on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico) which are about 140 miles north of the Calusa.
While in Tampa, I hired a Uber to take me to retrieve my car. I found it unharmed where I left it. Police were stationed at entrances to the parking lots. After retrieving my car, I drove to the Calusa. Signal lights were inoperable. Florida National Guard and police from all over the state were directing traffic. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had set up their Samaritan’s Purse disaster resources in church parking lots including mine and two others nearby. Emergency resources were evident everywhere.
I learned that Bert’s, a local landmark in Matlacha and one of my favorite traditional “Florida joints,” no longer existed and the causeway to Sanibel had been damaged, stranding many who were evacuated. Matlacha residents have since been informed that all must leave as the disaster has made the small town “uninhabitable.
Fort Myers and Cape Coral residents were under strict orders to boil water before using it. On the way to Fort Myers, utility trucks and disaster resources from all over the Eastern USA were going south to help. More than 7000 volunteers were on the way to help tarp roofs, gut structures, and help in the clean-up.
This past weekend I returned to see what was going on, two months after the storm in the Fort Myers area. There are many piles of vegetation debris still along the streets that are being cleaned up. Electricity is delivered reliably. Many road signs and billboards are still where the storm left them. Numerous crews are cleaning out uprooted and snapped trees.
Almost every business with an outdoor sign prior to the storm was still missing it. Many fences in neighborhoods were often knocked over. Roofs are “blue tarped” everywhere. The US Army Corps of Engineers and others helped provide free tarps. In downtown Fort Myers, the sturdy buildings hide the inside damage caused by the storm surge.
Many restaurants like Ford’s Garage and the pictured Capone’s are now open. Starbucks and many others are still closed. Churches were open and members were giving unprecedented amounts to help people in their communities recover. Meals were given free to the responders, the volunteers, and other people who were helping in the recovery. The storm is said to be the second most costly natural disaster in USA history.
In spite of posted warnings, many people are being taken advantage of by fraudulent rip-offs. My storm losses have been minimal, in comparison, and have been reimbursed by my insurance company, USAA, and to a lesser extent FEMA.
Some have asked me how I have handled everything. I planned daily what I would do that day. I didn’t focus on other things not planned. That may sound trivial but changing addresses with friends, family and businesses, finding a new place to live, making insurance claims, arranging to be moved and then packing/unpacking in one week, meeting new people, establishing new Internet connectivity, finding new doctors and setting up appointments with them, caused a lot of anxiety. Compartmentalizing helped to manage the anxiety.
Basically, though, I am fortunate. Praise God for his grace by keeping me safe and showing me the way to make it through the hurricane disaster. Together, we are working on the next big one… where will be my place of worship going forward? I liked being established and having good fellowship with members of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers. It is a difficult decision.