FORT MYERS, Fla. — Joy McCormack stood in front of a stretch of mobile homes, townhouses and condos now completely covered in knee-deep floodwater.
She watched her neighbors come in and out of their homes, hoping to salvage something from the wreckage. She wondered how her home in the nearby Iona Ranch mobile home had fared after Hurricane Ian, but knew the devastation had probably taken it too.
“I think mine is going to be a total loss,” McCormack said. “It’s the only house I have and if it doesn’t exist anymore…”
She got out of breath.
For Mitch Stough and his brother Mike, Fort Myers Beach was their bread and butter. Now it has been completely destroyed.
“It’s leveled,” Mitch told The News-Press, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
Fort Myers Beach, along with the other barrier islands in Lee County, bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s onslaught on the Florida coastline. The storm, a Category 4 when it made landfall, sent 150mph winds and a towering storm surge ripping through the center of the city.
Fort Myers, with a population of over 92,000, is a popular city for tourists and vacationers. The nearby small coastal town of Fort Myers Beach, filled with bars, hotels and beach-side resorts, sits on the skinny island of Estero, making it more vulnerable as Ian pounded the area . The city has nearly 6,000 inhabitants.
Towns and villages were among the first to take the brunt of the storm. Other parts of the state are still experiencing heavy rains and have yet to break free from Ian’s grip. Local officials and President Joe Biden say the storm is likely to be historically deadly and costly.
LIVE UPDATES:Ian regains hurricane strength as he targets South Carolina; Florida death toll rises
Mitch and Mike Stough took shelter on the third floor of the Estero Island Beach Club, where Mike worked. From there, they had a direct view of the chaos. Waves slammed into Estero Boulevard, demolishing lower floors of buildings and washing away vehicles, they said. Their car was stolen.
Mitch, who worked at the iconic Lani Kai resort, said the storm surge stripped the vacation spot’s first floor of its structural elements.
“There’s nothing there,” he said. “Fort Myers beach is gone.”
A few miles away, boats could be seen thrown against road guardrails, snatched from their storage areas the night before. Closer to the Matanzas Pass Bridge, entire marina buildings were shattered, wooden docks twisted and splintered. Sheriff’s deputies blocked access to Estero Island, saying the bridge was not safe to cross.
On the island of San Carlos, rows of houses have been ravaged by the winds and the water, the shingles torn off, the windows shattered. A boat blocked the middle of the road, dragged out of a driveway by the storm. Residents, looking shocked, began the monumental task of cleaning up, picking up debris from their lawns.
For Mitch and Mike Stough, there was no going back: they said they planned to move elsewhere.
“There is nothing here for us. Our jobs are gone. Our car is gone. There is nothing open,” he said. “It’s going to take a few years to get this thing back into shape.”
DESTRUCTION AND DESPAIR:See the damage caused by Hurricane Ian city by city across Florida
Sanibel Island Sees ‘Biblical’ Destruction After Ian
A few miles to the west, a piece of the causeway connecting Sanibel Island to mainland Florida had fallen into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live.
There, the devastation was almost total. Aerial video from ABC News shows homes with damaged or missing roofs, some drifting off their foundations, and rows of houses surrounded by water from storm surges.
“Sanibel is destruction…it was hit by a truly biblical storm surge,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
He said efforts were underway to bring those who remained on the island to safety. Two people have been confirmed dead on Sanibel Island, officials said late Thursday, part of the state’s total death toll of 14, though the number is expected to rise dramatically.
Further south, Naples’ historic waterfront pier was destroyed, even the pilings below were ripped out. “At this time, there is no pier,” said Penny Taylor, commissioner for Collier County.
On Wednesday, Stan Pentz heard the stormwater boom rushing through his Iona Ranch mobile home in Fort Myers. He said the water was rapidly coming up the channels outside his house before bursting through its sliding doors. Pentz clung to the blinds, desperately trying to get out as his house quickly filled with water.
Once out, the current carried him up and around his house to some bushes, where he stayed for three hours. The debris rammed him until he could swim to a building for shelter.
He’s already gone home to try and salvage what he can but it’s no use since “everything is under water”.
‘NEVER SEEN A FLOOD LIKE THIS’:Here’s how you can help those affected by Hurricane Ian in Florida
Contribute: The Associated Press
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