Hurricane Ian brings fear to Florida, leaving destruction in its wake

Damage from Hurricane Ian is seen in Fort Meyers, Florida September 29, 2022

Suzanne Clarke wades through waist-deep water, struggling to reach her daughter’s apartment as she drags a kayak behind her.

When she finally reaches the home, she loads her two small granddaughters into the boat and pushes them toward higher ground, where she has parked her car on a freeway.

The building where Clarke’s daughter lives, in McGregor, a small city in southwestern Florida, was flooded Wednesday as Hurricane Ian thrashed over the community, which is situated along the Caloosahatchee River. 

“I am very stressed, it’s been rough,” said 54-year-old Clarke. “I came early. The water was really, really high and I was scared.”

A day after Ian’s fury was unleashed, the inhabitants of Lee County — one of the areas most affected by the storm — are left to count the damage inflicted over the last several hours, now standing under a radiantly sunny sky. 

Some six miles (10 kilometers) away in Iona, only a few particularly tall cars dare to navigate through a flooded street. 

Resident Ronnie Sutton spent the night with a friend in a town south of here called Cabo Coral. Even though he hasn’t been able to get to his house yet, he is sure the water has destroyed everything. 

“It’s terrible,” the 67-year-old said. “I guess this is the price you pay for being at sea level. Sometimes it comes back to bite you.”

– Boats in the middle of the street –

Ian battered this section of southwestern Florida for hours on Wednesday, leaving behind scenes of destruction, including splintered trees, felled traffic lights and shattered glass. 

In Fort Meyers, a quiet city of approximately 83,000 people, the rising Caloosahatchee River pushed dozens of small boats — usually anchored at the local marina — up into the streets of downtown, where they remained Thursday on the now-dry ground. 

Tom Johnson witnessed the flooding up close from his apartment on the second floor of a two-story building. 

Wednesday afternoon, he saw how the hurricane propelled two boats up into his complex’s courtyard in a matter of just five minutes. 

“I was scared because I’ve never been through that,” recalled 54-year-old Johnson, whose home was not damaged, gesturing to the crafts still laying there.

“It was just the most horrifying sounds, with debris flying everywhere, doors flying off.”

One of Johnson’s neighbors, Janelle Thil, was not as lucky. Her ground-floor apartment began to flood, but she was able to ask another resident for help to get out. 

“They got my dogs and then I jumped out of the window and swam over there,” Thil said, pointing to a vacant second-floor unit where she and others took refuge. 

The 42-year-old had finished clearing out the mud that found its way into her home, and began gathering her few possessions that were not lost in the flood. 

“I cried a little bit when I finally got to my apartment,” she said. “Opened the door and I had to wait about five minutes for all the floodwaters to come out.”

“I loved my home, but I’m alive and that’s what matters.”

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