(Reprinted from personal email 10.2.22)
I missed yesterday’s email to you all as I did not have access to the internet.
Nothing I say could tell you the fear, stress, sadness, and depression we have experienced.
But one thing I have witnessed is humanity.
We stop and pick up strangers and give them rides. I’ve been offered water. Traffic lights hang 3 feet above the road, so we all stop at intersections and take turns going around the debris.
We thank each other. We reach out and we cry.
We realize we don’t need much. Just a hug or a smile. We don’t care that we’re filthy, that we have no hot meals, no coffee, and no air conditioning.
We have no internet and no news. We are only wrapped within our little neighborhood hinging on hope.
If I may, I will share my experience but first, your membership coordinator and my dear friend Kat as lost everything. She was in the middle of moving so her belongings were in both houses when they were both destroyed as well as her and her husband’s cars. She has 10 days to vacate St. James City, on Pine Island. Yes, they are closing down the island.
Her connection to me is sketchy at best so I do not have more details. If you need anything, please reach out to me.
My experience with Hurricane Ian
I was staying out on Sanibel Island when I got the call to evacuate. It was recommended but not mandatory until 18 hours before the hurricane hit us.
I left when I heard the recommended evacuation as I have seen too many poor decisions leading to tragedy in the ER and I respect mother nature.
Why didn’t I leave the area?
Because we all thought the storm was heading to Tampa. We have been through hurricanes, and we knew we would get wind and some damage but it was smack-dab heading for Tampa or, so we were told.
Besides, I live 10 miles inland and didn’t think we would get the storm surge. Most of us didn’t even know what that meant. When I looked it up on the internet, I was scared.
At 7 AM Wednesday I was in my 1 story (as were all my neighbors), hunkered down when my son called screaming at me to get out and go to my brother’s, who has a 2-story. At first, I resisted but the panic in his voice scared me. He is usually a calm kid, so I called my brother, told him I was coming, grabbed my suitcase still sitting at the door from being on Sanibel, and drove 1 mile down the road to his house.
By now, the lake behind my house was already past the trees in my backyard.
There were dark clouds swirling. The wind was awful, but I know from boating that if you’re up against wind then your vehicle needs speed to compensate. No one was on the road. Yes, I ran a red light to get to him when I saw how horrible the storm was.
We still had power because he lives on the same grid as the Lee Health Park Hospital which is almost his backyard.
For the next 16 hours, this storm raged on. We had a storm shutter we could pull up every once and a while and look out. It was gray outside, the trees were being pounded and the storm would not stop.
We lost power. The hospital’s generator kicked in but that did not help us.
I have a transistor radio and listened as the helpless but dedicated news folks gave us the grave news. We were all waiting for this storm to pass but Ian just sat over us.
There was a knock on my brother’s garage door, more like a pounding. Water was now up to my car which was sitting in his driveway. It was his neighbor who said all the streets are flooding and she needed a 2-story. We brought her in and closed the garage door.
The water kept coming.
The 52-foot wave.
I did not learn until later that Ian had swirled a 52-foot wave off our coast and when it crashed it buried Sanibel Island, Ft Myers Beach (Estero Island), and came inland more than 10 miles. When it left, Ian went north to Pine Island, wiping out their one connection to the mainland, and destroying that island as well.
We finally fell asleep with the hurricane shutters slamming against the house but holding. We heard the shingles and solar panels coming off. We couldn’t see where the water was as it was dark. I prayed the debris wouldn’t injure other houses. The screaming winds did indeed sound like a train coming into your bedroom.
I awoke at 4:30 AM and waited for my brother and sunlight in order to raise that one storm shutter again 3 inches and peek out. The wind was still there but the water had receded from his house. It was only a foot deep in the road.
The hospital not visible before because of all the trees. Now there was a lake and the hospital was on the other side of it. The trees? Most of them, gone.
We opened the garage door.
His neighbors slowly emerged as I left and walked the street, making sure there were no alligators. Eight-inch fish were swimming around. I came to the main road off his subdivision. Only jeeps and pickup trucks could pass.
We all looked around in awe, a new respect for mother nature, and at that moment, we all realized that there is so much more to life. We didn’t care about food, water, or shelter. We cared about each other.
The water continued to recede all day Thursday but my neighborhood roads were too flooded, so I stayed at my brother’s.
Late morning, more and more cars were on the road, but my brother’s road was still flooded so I walked through the water and to the hospital making sure not to step on live wires, thorns, and downed trees. What normally would take me 15 minutes to do, took an hour, but I knew the hospital had a generator and that meant cell phone coverage. I sat on the bench outside the hospital and texted my adult kids. I finally got through for a second.
Other people began to arrive. We shared our stories. Some came with a suitcase and that was it. They were just trying to contact their loved ones.
We were quiet and stunned. Nurses and doctors came out to look for their cars. Because the parking lot had flooded, they lost them to the flood, and many cars were either gone or crashed into each other.
I felt for them as I knew our hospital policy requires all nurses and doctors to leave their families and come to the hospital. They had watched from the upper levels of the hospital as their cars crashed into each other. They too needed to see if their families were safe. If they refused to come to the hospital, they would lose their jobs. But they are as dedicated as the next profession, and their patients’ care always comes first.
The “new” noise we hear.
The big military helicopters started to fly overhead. Every 15 minutes you heard them make their way from I-75 to Ft Myers Beach and Sanibel. Ambulance sirens were going off every 5 minutes.
The birds came out. It had stopped raining and the blue sky was emerging with a calming breeze.
I’ll never forget the one bird that was caught in debris or looking for its family. It kept screaming all Thursday evening and night but we did not know where it was and if it was in the “lake” we knew there might be alligators too. It finally stopped on Friday. It was so hard to hear an animal in distress and not be able to help.
By Friday afternoon, I got into my neighborhood to find the trees at the entrance down which needed to be removed before I could drive. We parked and I walked around the debris looking for my home. There it was and it was standing. I finally broke down. It was too much.
As I walked through my neighborhood, we hugged and asked each other how we could help. So much devastation, but we had our humanity.
We could not know the extent of the damage. We did not have access to TV. We did not know Sanibel, Captiva, Pine Island, and Ft Myers Beach were destroyed.
When I finally could talk to my daughter, I told her we could not see the news. She replied, “Mom, you don’t want to know.” I got her meaning.
Late Friday evening, I drove back to the hospital to get an internet connection and watched as ambulance after ambulance from all over the state pulled up. They had to empty the hospital because there was no safe water. The main water line in Ft Myers broke, so only bottled water would do. The hospital sign hand precariously in the mild wind.
Again, the proof of mankind, is that hospitals came together to move patients to safer areas. There were a dozen porta-potties outside both Health Park and Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Uber was offering free rides and picking people up who were walking., taking most to shelters. The RSW airport continues to stay closed.
By Saturday, I saw 50 huge white utility trucks in the Lakes Regional Library parking lot. They were waiting for instructions. I knew from Irma, that these men and women left their families and came down to help. They are a true community. They will stay until we have power.
We offer them food and water as we pass by them. We so appreciate all they do. It’s hot and dirty work. On top of that, they have to learn our power line hook-ups as companies are different. I understand that Marriott Hotels puts them up for free for as long as they need to stay.
I am learning that the Sanibel and Pine Island bridges are out. I drove down to Ft Myers Beach and saw the destruction. My other brother was in his RV at the time just off San Carlos Road in Ft Myers Beach. He texted us during the storm, letting us know the water was coming and then nothing, but we found him safe. All RV parks are closed so he will need to find a new place to go.
As the mold begins to set in, we take one minute at a time. We get water and a can of something to eat once a day if we’re lucky. We don’t care about insurance or money. How can we, when so many have lost so much more than others? We have all opened our homes to folks who need shelter.
We truly only care about each other. Our local government is amazing. They are dedicated to rescuing, then safety, and then protecting us. We know they are doing their best. They are bringing in cell towers for us. They are working 24/7 to see that we are taken care of, and we trust them to tell us what we need to know.
Truly, Ian has changed my life.
Nothing matters anymore but the love we have for one another.
Everything else comes and goes.
P.S. [UPDATE]December 28, 2022 We are 3 months out. Ft Myers folks are still waiting on insurance to pay and repairs. Materials and honest workers are in short supply. FEMA turned many away and insurance shorted many homeowners so the recovery has been slow.
Many folks in Fort Myers Beach are selling their land at high prices. It is said that the island will see exponential building growth in the next 5 years, maybe even more so than Naples. Its quaintness as a 60’s place to vacation will be lost forever.
Sanibel Island has not let visitors back on the island yet. There may be 1-2 businesses open. There are still lots of debris and clean-up is slow but methodical. We do expect this island to return to normal in 18 months as many of the facilities are multi-unit timeshares and they need to get back to business.
How Hurricane Ian Changed My Life Forever