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The Yankee Express

Relatives and friends say Ian even worse than forecast

Packing winds in excess of 150 MPH, Hurricane Ian reigned destruction on Florida’s southwest coast.


When the local weather forecasters started talking about the latest hurricane (Ian) heading for Florida, the native Fort Myers’ residents appeared to just continue along their merry ways. The bright sun shone, the skies were blue, and the Sunshine State’s puffy white clouds scudded across their usual skyways. What? Me worry? It’s probably just going to be one of the usual tropical storms, they speculated.
A few days before Hurricane Ian hit landfall, I spoke with my cousin Elaine and her husband Fred who live about 10 miles southwest of Fort Myers. Fred indicated they were observing and TV-monitoring Hurricane Ian’s “cone” or projected path. Weather predictors’ statements at the time were that Ian would come ashore well north of their residence to the Tampa/St. Pete area.
“Not to worry, Janet,” Fred said, “it’s going to be far from us. When we moved here from Leicester (Mass.) and built our home, it was constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds. We have wind-resistant glass windows, steel hurricane shutters for our windows, and have taken as many hurricane-precautionary measures as possible.”  
Elaine mentioned that they had withstood Hurricane Charley in 2004, a direct hit in their community, with 150 mph winds. “We’ll never forget Charley,” she said, “Fred and I were inside the house and had our backs up against our large wooden front door trying to keep the winds from crashing it open. It was horrifying. We’re hoping we never have to go through that again!”  The couple recently purchased and installed a $3,200 hurricane-proof front door with extra latches, hinges, and solid steel framing. They certainly seemed secure and very safe. I thought they’ll be just fine.
A good friend, Gayle, from the local area, was also visiting people she knew in Fort Myers. The friend’s residence was in a mobile home park. “It’s so hot and humid here,” she stated via text message, “I can’t believe this humidity. Unreal. Yes, we’re keeping an eye on Ian too. Looks like it might just be a typical tropical storm.”
On September 28th, Hurricane Ian decided to shift his path and that path included a hard swing to the southwest Florida coast taking his aim and central eye right through the Cape Coral and Fort Myers’ areas. All communications to my relatives and friend were now wiped out. Repeated phone calls to my cousin and friend went to voicemail or just a dead silence. 
Television news now showed drone flights passing over the destruction and heart-breaking ruins left by Ian’s 155 mph winds. The monster storm was just shy of being officially branded as a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 161 mph. According to the National Environmental Satellite Data Service, Ian thrashed parts of Florida’s western coast bringing intense winds, heavy rainfall, and catastrophic storm surges. A storm surge with inundation of an unprecedented 12 to 18 feet above ground level was reported along the southwestern Florida coast, and the city of Fort Myers itself was hit particularly hard with a 7.26 foot surge—a record high. Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm on Sept. 29 as it tracked inland, crossing over the Florida peninsula. However, as it did so, extreme rainfall became particularly destructive, producing 1-in-1000-year amounts in some communities.  
And yes, climate change has now been scientifically proven for many Floridians after this horrible catastrophe. Damages are estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.
Luckily, before Ian hit, my friend Gayle and her acquaintance had evacuated Fort Myers and had driven south to Naples to weather the storm. However, even Naples was without utilities after Ian’s departure. “There are so many things that we all take for granted,” said Gayle, “it’s so automatic to go into a darkened room and reach for the light switch or click on the TV or turn on the faucet and expect water to flow. Then, to see all the hurricane’s ruin left behind, it was so sad. In the mobile home parks there were tons of Styrofoam and metal everywhere. It looked like the authorities were coming by and picking up all the metal but the Styrofoam was broken into millions of pieces.”  (The construction of mobile homes uses foam as insulation between the inner and outer walls of the units.)  The friend whom Gayle visited had no visible damage to her mobile home and was very grateful. Apparently, the previous owners had hurricane-proofed the unit with the use of in-ground tethered steel cables at each corner of the home. A major and truly valuable asset. “Other homes in the park were not so lucky,” Gayle said, “it looked like a tornado had affected the entire opposite side of the street. Lanais and decks had been completely torn off. One couple just decided that Florida’s hurricanes were not for them ever again. They put their mobile home up for sale right away and returned to New York.”  In this particular neighborhood water and other utilities were restored in just a few days.
In Elaine and Fred’s Cape Coral neighborhood, however, the hurricane’s aftermath was an entirely different story. “Our power finally came back on Sunday (October 9th),” Fred explained when I reached out to him late Sunday afternoon, “12 days without power, water, or anything else. We certainly couldn’t power up our steel window covers so they kept the house interior pitch black even at mid-day. After the hurricane had swept through, we peered out one of our small windows and saw that every home looked like it was on its own island as water had flooded the streets. The following day we were happy to see that the flood water had all drained away. We used our neighbor’s generator to power up our cellphone. Another neighbor had propane for cooking so we brought our freezer perishables there to be cooked and shared buffets with our neighbors. Our backyard sea wall had held but all sorts of floating and sunken objects could be seen in the canal behind our home including some nice cabin cruisers. Our pool and outdoor kitchen were none the worse for wear either. Outside of a few missing roof tiles, we appear to be in good shape.”
Two fortunate families made it through one of the worst hurricanes Florida has seen. Thousands of others were not so privileged. The unfortunate prospect of future maelstroms, however, are certainly forces to be reckoned with.