On Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida. With 150-mph sustained winds, it caused major flooding, damage and loss of life, with property damage estimates ranging as high as $258 billion. And that figure doesn’t take into account business interruption and human misery.
That’s just awful, we think. And after a couple weeks of being distressed by photos and videos of storm-ravaged neighborhoods, we move on to the Next Big Thing.
My sister and her husband haven’t moved on; their house in Fort Myers Beach was badly damaged by the storm.
When we were kids, my sister’s nickname was Beauteous (pronounced Bu-TAY-us; if you saw her, you’d know why), usually shortened to B. She is competent, organized, assertive, and persuasive. But dealing with the challenges presented by Ian is testing her usually impenetrable resolve.
When Ian made landfall, B. and her husband were in Ohio, readying for their annual road trip to Florida, where they spend their winters. Through emails, texts and voicemails, I learned, bit by bit, what she and other Floridians are up against, with no end in sight. It isn’t pretty.
Her initial responses, shown below, reveal that she didn’t know what she was dealing with yet:
Oct. 12: “Today I feel a little down because things are not progressing fast enough. Florida Power and Light is putting a burden on every home that is still standing because of a required inspection. So many of the older homes (like from the late 1980s) have their electrical boxes mounted only at three- or four-foot heights, and they have all been wrecked.
“As soon as we get word on water, we will leave, but that is still up in the air.”
Oct. 15: “Florida Power and Light has taken every electric meter off every house to steadfastly say: ‘No power until you reassess and contact us.’ I think that is quite lousy. All of last week was phone call after phone call to procure replacement siding, Tyvek, dormer louvers, garage doors, equipment to run the pool; on and on with the claims adjusters.
“We have the elevator guy waiting to come by, the electrical guy waiting to come by, and the lawn guy waiting to come by to help us get the refrigerator out that’s in the pool and help unload all of the junk on the pool deck. I’m told there are tons and tons of dirt and mud on every outdoor surface, let alone the salty residue inside and out.”
Oct. 17: “This morning I spoke with a nasty town manager at the Beach who was telling me that the Army Corps of Engineers will be combing the streets doing exterior inspections of the safety of homes, and will place either a red tag or a yellow tag on each door knob. We will see where that goes, because we will not comply with a red tag [which would prohibit entering the house].
“We can’t screw around too much longer. We have to be on our way because nothing can be fixed from here. Mold will already be starting to form at the lower level, and the integrity of that kind of damage has to be controlled. Do I really want to go? The answer is no.”
Oct. 19: “We were feeling better when the vice mayor told us to send mail to the utilities director saying ‘we are ready for water to be restored,’ and all of our neighbors did likewise. We got back a terse paragraph saying ‘your water will not be restored until we have your electrical examination and your structural examination.’ So now we are again nowhere. Those exams cannot be done until we are on the premises.
“Every day seems more troublesome than the day before.”
A second message on Oct. 19: “We now have excellent pictures sent to us by our FEMA representative. Our basement pictures are overwhelmingly bad. Eight-foot-tall utility cabinets floated all around, and may have damaged the exterior of our Chevy Tahoe that’s there.”
Oct. 21: “We received word that the main water line on our street has been restored.”
Oct. 22: “I’m tired of the rules leaving everything in loose ends. I can’t enter the Beach on Monday and Tuesday due to heavy equipment everywhere. I can be there Wednesday-Saturday, with off and on times of 9 to 5. I can’t leave my house at 5 p.m. and go get dinner; I won’t be allowed back. It really is way too much to deal with, but we just must. Contractors don’t want to work on the Beach and everyone is bitching about the town management.”
Oct. 23: “We will be shutting down my laptop very soon. Our truck is almost 90 percent packed. I have to put our traveling food together. Everything should be OK. We are both basically on the fringes of our mental capacity. It’s been just awful.”
Upon arrival, and reality kicks in: “We walked into our house a few days ago and had hysterical reactions. Everything in the garage is ruined, sitting in two inches of dried yellow and black mold, which is taking hold of everything. It took us two days just to clean out a walkway in order to start to work on anything.
“There is a commercial company scheduled to tear out drywall, spray the walls up to the ceiling, and remove the stairway that rises from the garage into the house.
“If we don’t deal with the mold in the next couple of weeks, it will engulf the house and continue to move upward.
“The pool is basically destroyed, filled with yellow/green and black water that’s afloat with everything that was in our neighbors’ basement. He didn’t put up his back shutters, and eight feet of water forced everything out of his garage into the pool. It’s a very toxic environment.
“I don’t know how we are going to handle that, so what we’re trying to do is take care of the mold, take care of the pool, then cleaning will go on for quite a while.”
Oct. 26: “There are no words to describe what it’s like here. It looks like Ukraine. There are piles of trash everywhere. And nobody cares.
“We are eating OK and trying to control our stress; just wanted you to know we’re OK, compared to 90 percent of other people. There’s no one in the high-rises; it’s pitch-black at night. I believe they have been structurally impaired in one way or another.
“Don’t worry; I’m not going to let everything overwhelm us. I just hope that we can keep at it. I’ll be talking to you soon.”
Nov. 3: “The city partnered with the Lee County Building Industry Association to hold an open house with licensed builders and contractors, and implemented a wrist band process for residents to ensure that they can obtain food and convenience services and facilities intended only for those who live on the Island.”
Nov. 4: “Day 9 of going from our hotel to the house. I continue to witness incalculable devastation; it’s starting to take hold of our emotions. Ten-hour work days while living out of an ice chest, 92-degree temperatures. The idea of walking away has resurfaced, but we just can’t do it. This property, which we acquired 22 years ago, is our retirement home; we have to give it one more shot.
“You know, human beings are not programmed to process or even comprehend this destruction, but our spirits keep talking to us, for as long as it takes. We are OK–just OK–but it’s going to be all right in the end. I’ve got everything under control a little bit more every day. We just have to do it right.”
To be continued …
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.