Hurricane Ian only passed through southwest Florida for a few hours.
It will take months to clean up all the mess. Maybe longer. And some of the destruction cannot be cleaned up at all.
From trees uprooted from the ground, signs torn out, traffic lights crashing into the roads, and buildings simply destroyed, the impact was everywhere and almost nothing was spared. The only difference between one place and the other was the severity of the problems.
“We’re going to get through this,” said Vice Mayor Richard Johnson of Sanibel, Florida. “And we’ll come out the other side better than we came in.”
Maybe, but it will be a colossal undertaking, ranging from cosmetic to crucial and everything in between.
Fort Myers beach is, quite simply, destroyed. Businesses have disappeared. Jobs are obviously lost, at least temporarily. The cleanup will take weeks and will almost certainly have to precede any rebuilding efforts.
Photos: ‘Catastrophic’ Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida
“All of our staff are safe and although the restaurant suffered incredible damage, the structure of the building is intact,” the owner of Nervous Nellie’s, a seafood restaurant on the beach, said in a statement. “We hope to fight our way through this and come back stronger than ever.”
Around the region – Naples, Fort Myers, Sanibel – the extent of the damage is impossible to ignore. Along US 41, the area’s main road, countless signs outside businesses are damaged, torn, or simply missing. The steel posts that hold the signboards in the ground are bent backwards, not up to the wind and Ian’s strength. The doors to the storage unit garages were bent, sending the stuff inside some of the spaces flying through the air. The majority of traffic lights are off, wires hanging from the road below in some cases.
And in one case, a metal road sign directing drivers to Interstate 75 was crushed by an electronic traffic sign warning drivers of a closed lane.
“I saw some things,” said Clark Manchin, a construction project manager, as he assessed the mess. “I have never seen that.”
Patience was running out quickly. A 7-Eleven employee pleaded with people filling her store: No $20, please. Small tickets only. “If I run out of change, we have to close,” she pleaded. There was no gas, no hot food and – because there was no running water – no coffee or toilets either.
“I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have,” Napoli’s Mark Crow said. “I didn’t stock up. I did not board. It’s a mess, man. It’s bad.”
Much of the damage, thankfully, was only cosmetic. The 150-foot-high (50 meters) and 250-yard (220-meter) deep netting surrounding a Top Golf facility in Fort Myers was shredded, swaying in the afternoon breeze, not far from the where a shredded American flag remained atop a pole in an office complex. At Florida Gulf Coast University, a set of bleachers – formerly on the sidelines of the football field – blew halfway down the field and ended up smashing one of the goals.
Other damage was much worse. At an RV park in Fort Myers, debris from a wrecked golf cart floated in deep standing water Thursday, long after the storm had cleared. Downed power lines and the destroyed poles to which they were attached blocked the entrance. And down the street was a barn-style building that was under construction. Its walls have crumbled, the roof pinning the shredded wood to the ground.
Damage assessment and cleanup are just beginning.
“We have to be patient,” said Sanibel board member John Henshaw. “We have to start looking at where we are going to stay and live for a meaningful period of time. I don’t know exactly what it is. We’ll learn more as we go through this process.