FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (AP) — On the road to Fort Myers Beach, cars lie abandoned on the pavement, where they stalled when storm surge from Hurricane Ian flooded their engines and their drivers n couldn’t continue. Broken trees, boat trailers and other debris litter the road.
It’s even worse in the seaside tourist town, much of which has been flattened by the high winds and powerful storm surge generated by the Category 4 hurricane.
The barrier islands along Florida’s southwest coast, famous for their shellfish, fishing and laid-back lifestyle, were hit hard by Ian when he landed on Wednesday. Sanibel and Captiva are both cut off from car traffic because the only bridge to the mainland has partially collapsed. The neighboring island of Pine Island was also ravaged.
At Cottage Point mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach, William Goodison and his son, Kurtis, rolled two trash cans filled with what was left of his belongings through knee-deep water on Thursday. A portable air conditioner. A few tools. And a baseball bat.
But his furniture and family heirlooms were gone, submerged when a 5-foot (1.5-meter) surge of water swept over the community of 60 retirement and worker homes. The Goodison single-width trailer he called home for 11 years – with just one payment left – has been destroyed. Due to the location, he was unable to obtain insurance.
“I own the land, but I’m going to have to scrap the trailer,” said Goodison, a carpenter. “To be rebuilt now…” he said, his voice trailing off at the thought. “But you have to have a place to live.”
Goodison weathered the storm at Kurtis inland. Otherwise, he said, he would probably be dead.
“I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,” he said.
Goodison said he lost many family photos and memories. “We will have to start building new ones,” he said.
At a small mall nearby, Darbana Patel and her family were wrapping yellow warning tape around the 10ft (3m) pile that had been their gas station pump-out area. The wooden canopy that covered the pumps and protected customers from the rain had collapsed, breaking the pumps. Inside the store, the roof had also collapsed. She thinks the business, which the family had owned for two years, is a total loss, but she is insured.
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 says. The other six stores in the mall also appeared to have sustained significant roof damage, and a motorhome in the parking lot had been flipped on its side.
At the Get Away Marina, the storm surge lifted a dozen large boats – up to 48 feet (14 meters) long – and carried them through the parking lot and a four-lane road before dropping them into a mangrove reserve. The wave also blew up the walls of the marina’s offices and flattened its second floor.
“It must have been a strong storm” said Robert Leisure, owner of the marina for two years. He said he and his employees had worked hard to improve the docks, which are now almost gone, and to beautify the property.
“We had a Tiki hut there,” he said, pointing to an empty spot. “That was really cute” he said about his business, “but not more.” He thought for a moment as he considered the reconstruction work ahead, “But where to start ?”
As he spoke, charter fishing captain Larry Conley approached and asked Leisure if he had seen Conley’s 24-foot (7.3-meter) boat.
“No, but it must be out there somewhere,” said Leisure, pointing to the mangroves.
Conley said he had insurance for the boat, but that wasn’t enough – he had to take the anglers. “This is how I pay the bills and survive” he said.
Eric Siefert, 62, a full-time resident of Sanibel, was among dozens of people evacuated from the barrier island on Thursday. Rescuers were bringing supplies to the island in small boats and bringing people back, half a dozen at a time.
“I thought that, given that I had a concrete house with hurricane shutters and storm windows, everything would hold up,” said Siefert. “And for the most part, he did. We just didn’t think we would 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 home is also elevated, so the living space is about 10 feet (3 meters) off the ground.
The water ended up rising about a foot above the base of Siefert’s all-new sliding storm doors, with only about an inch of water seeping into the house, Siefert said. Although the interior remains relatively water-free, Siefert said fear and uncertainty prompted him to lift his disabled wife onto a chest of drawers.
“It was literally like being in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Siefert. “The water went through several football fields and over a street and a half, and it was coming right at us, and it was going up, and it kept going up.”