Restoring Paradise: One week after Hurricane Ian many still without basic needs

Hannah Morse, Diana Biederman, Will Watts
Staff and correspondent

One week after Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, there were over 2,000 Islanders still without power. More without access to the internet and perhaps still unaware of the total devastation that the storm caused just north beyond their own shores.

Despite the very visible scars, Wednesday marked the opening of more business than any day since the storm. Long lines waiting for gas had finally disappeared.  

In addition to destruction, Ian’s storm surge, which covered Collier Boulevard, also left many with a renewed awareness of just how serious hurricanes can be.

With 49 confirmed deaths by the state’s Medical Examiners’ Commission in Lee and Collier counties, the tragic conditions behind them paint a picture of terror and sorrow. The statewide 68-death list is certain to grow, officials predict. 

On the north end of the island, the Snook Inn had lost the contents of their gift shop and left extensive damage to the beloved restaurant.

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“We have a standing building, so we’re all grateful for that,” said senior manager Megan Criser. “We have more water damage than wind damage.”

They plan to rebuild. “We’re definitely going to be doing a more extensive renovation than we expected, but we’ll get it done and we’ll get it done quickly,” Criser said. “And we’ll be back, hopefully, before season.”

Down the block on Palm Street, Martina Smith was inspecting the damage at Boardroom Tavern and her Smith House restaurant and bakery.

“We lost everything in our kitchen, all of our refrigeration, so we’ll definitely be at least a month before we’re able to reopen,” Smith said. “But in saying all of that, we are blessed.”

Athena Mangan, the pastry chef at Smith’s bakery, was aiding in the clean-up efforts. She and her husband left their home before it was flooded, and she lost her Jeep. They were supposed to move out the day before, but she can’t find hotels anywhere. Her landlord still wants her out, she said.

“We’re pretty much homeless, so we’re here helping out. I have to,” she said.

She said she knew friends across Southwest Florida — Port Charlotte, North Port, Fort Myers — who were directly impacted by the storm, but they’re all going to face a lot of emotional trauma from Ian, she said.

“It’s going to be unbearable for a lot of people. The wind gusts were what got me. It was just terrifying. Sounded like a jet engine,” she said.

Like others, the storm surge was unexpected for Angela Loduca.

“It didn’t seem like it was going to be that way,” she said, having remained at her home with her 17-month-old child, where the surge covered the floor. “If I knew it was going to be like that, I definitely would have split.”

Ahead of Hurricane Irma, Goodland was a ghost town. Residents fled anticipating they would be a direct hit. The city of Marco Island called for an evacuation from Ian on Tuesday, and by the time Wednesday morning came around, and “we were trapped. It was flooded with debris. We couldn’t get out,” Loduca said.

Trucks from across the country at a staging area in East Naples Tuesday.

“It was already too late to leave,” added resident James Allen, with whom Loduca was checking on Saturday afternoon. “There was no way out.”

The surge took with it down the street boats and dining room and picnic tables. Had the waters risen another inch, it would have flooded Allen’s home, he said. Debris from his yard, his neighbor’s yard, his neighbor’s neighbor’s yard, was all piled up along the street.

Loduca doesn’t blame officials for the timing of the evacuation, and after the fact feels particularly blessed compared to other Southwest Florida residents.

“It’s just the way it shifted. I get it. It’s not like anybody said, ‘Oh, let’s screw Marco and Goodland and leave them there,’” she said.

Before Loduca left Allen to continue cleaning up her home and trashing what could get moldy, she told him to stop by if he smelled them grilling steak or corned beef.

“It’s all defrosted, so it’s got to get cooked,” she said.

Osteria Capri's chef-owner AJ Black knows his priorities: family, neighbors then business.

From Sanibel friends riding out the storm in East Naples to residents in the condos across the street from his Italian restaurant, Black helped anyone in need of food on Isles of Capri before and after Hurricane Ian hit this tiny peninsula comprising canal-side homes in South Naples.

Following a night of non-stop rain and power going out at 4 a.m. on Sept. 28, elevated storm surge started around 8:30 a.m. despite being "low tide" status. Water levels in Capri's canals crept atop many residents' docks by 11 a.m.

Three streets nearest Collier Boulevard — San Juan, Samar and Panay Avenues — flooded quickly and became deadly. The battery from a car left in a garage on Samar Avenue ignited during the flooding, setting the house on fire.

Black was at Samar Avenue feeding the firefighters and providing premium Italian bottled water even though his Italian restaurant on Capri Boulevard — the community's only thoroughfare — would soon be deluged with water. 

More:Feeding family, neighbors is priority for Isles of Capri restaurant owner before and after Hurricane Ian

The destruction wasn’t limited to land. The remaining four Cape Romano dome homes have indeed collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico following a final lashing by Hurricane Ian, photos and videos from a local sheller confirm.

Alex Demooy of Breakwater Adventures and Athena Custodio, both of Naples, were out shelling on Friday morning when they came across what remained of the iconic and popular structures. At one point in time they were fully on land, built in 1982, but erosion had in a sense pushed the homes into the water. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, two of the homes sunk.

Now, just the concrete top of one of the dome homes could be seen at low tide, appearing almost like the back of a small white whale as it comes up for air. The pilings and rods jutted out of the water as well.

The storm was good for shelling, Demooy said after returning to the Goodland Boating Park on Saturday afternoon, having come across several rare Junonia among other finds. As for the dome homes, he kept it all in perspective.

“The abandoned house that got blown away is a lot less of a let down than the people who actually have their houses that blew away,” he said.

Desperate Captiva residents have asked him for a ride to their homes, Demooy said. But his small boat and the 60-mile distance would make that trek difficult.

“We don’t know what the heck’s going on right now, so it’s hard to do any of that kind of stuff,” he said.