Hurricane Ian swept away homes on offshore islands

The barrier islands along Florida’s southwest coast were badly hit by Ian. Several are cut off from vehicular traffic because a bridge collapsed.

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – On the road to Fort Myers Beach, cars are left in the lane where they are parked Hurricane Ians Storm surge swamped their engines and their drivers were unable to continue. Fallen trees, boat trailers and other debris litter the road.

It’s even worse in the seaside tourist town, much of which was destroyed by the Category 4 hurricane’s high winds and powerful storm surge.

The barrier islands along Florida’s Southwest coast, famous for their shellfish, fishing and laid-back lifestyle, took place big hits by ian when it came ashore on Wednesday. Sanibel and Captiva are both cut off from traffic because the only bridge to the mainland has partially collapsed. Nearby Pine Island was also devastated.

At Cottage Point RV park in Fort Myers Beach, William Goodison and his son Kurtis rolled two garbage cans filled with the remains of his belongings through knee-high water on Thursday. A portable air conditioner. Some tools. And a baseball bat.

But his furniture and family memories were gone when a 1.5 meter high water wave plowed over the 60-home community of retirees and workers. Goodison’s single-wide trailer, which he called home for eleven years – he had only one payment left – was destroyed. Because of the location, he couldn’t get insurance.

“I own the land, but I have to scrap the trailer,” said Goodison, a carpenter. “Rebuild now…” he said, his voice cracking at the thought. “But you must have a place to live.”

Goodison weathered the storm at Kurtis’ home inland. Otherwise, he said, he would probably be dead.

“I don’t know how anyone survived in there,” he said.

Goodison said he lost numerous family photos and memorabilia. “We have to start building new ones,” he said.

At a small mall nearby, Darbana Patel and her family wrapped yellow caution tape around the 10-foot (3-meter) high pile that had been their gas station’s pumping area. The wooden awning that had covered the pumps and protected customers from the rain had collapsed, smashing the pumps. The roof had also collapsed inside the store. She thinks the business the family has owned for two years is a total loss but has insurance.

Patel said she was stunned when she arrived at the store on Thursday to see it reduced to twisted metal and a pile of wood.

“I was like, ‘Where’s my store?'” she said. The other six stores in the mall also appeared to have suffered significant roof damage and a motorhome in the parking lot had been thrown on its side.

At Get Away Marina, the storm surge lifted a dozen large boats up to 14 meters long and carried them across the parking lot and a four-lane road before being set down in a mangrove reserve. The tide also blew up the walls of the marina’s offices, flattening the second floor.

“It must have been a big storm,” said Robert Leisure, who has owned the marina for the past two years. He said he and his staff have put in a lot of work to improve the docks, which are now mostly gone, and beautify the property.

“We had a tiki hut over there,” he said, pointing to an empty spot. “It was really sweet,” he said of his business, “but no more.” He paused for a moment while contemplating the upcoming rebuild, “But where do you start?”

As he spoke, Larry Conley, captain of the charter fishery, approached him and asked Leisure if he had seen Conley’s 7.3 meter boat.

‘No, but it must be over there somewhere,’ said Leisure, pointing towards the mangroves.

Conley said he had insurance on the boat, but that wasn’t enough – he had to take anglers with him. “It’s how I pay the bills and survive,” he said.

Eric Siefert, 62, a full-time Sanibel resident, was one of dozens of people evacuated from the barrier island on Thursday. Rescuers brought equipment to the island on small boats and brought people back, about half a dozen at a time.

“I thought that since I have a concrete house with hurricane shutters and storm-proof windows, everything would hold up,” said Siefert. “And for the most part it did. We just didn’t think we were going to get an 18-foot storm surge.”

Siefert’s house is more than a block from the beach and about 2 meters above sea level, he estimated. His house is also elevated so that the living space is about 3 meters above the ground.

The water eventually rose to about a foot above the base of Siefert’s brand new sliding storm doors, with only about an inch of water entering the home, Siefert said. Though the interior remained relatively free of water, Siefert said fear and uncertainty prompted him to lift his disabled wife onto a dresser.

“It was literally like being in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico,” Siefert said. “The water came across several football fields and a street and a half, and it was coming right at us, and it was rising, and it didn’t stop rising.”

Associated Press contributors Curt Anderson and David Fischer contributed to this report. Hurricane Ian swept away homes on offshore islands

Laura Coffey

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