Storm scars: With Ian, Marco-area homes saw another side to hurricanes

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News

The near-Category 5 hurricane that sideswiped Marco Island more than two weeks ago was similar in strength to Hurricane Irma. But their threats were totally different, which means the lingering challenges are, too.

In 2017, Irma blew off roofs and turned the beachfront community into Tarp City. On Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian pumped potentially deadly waves of water into it with a high-tide storm surge. So last week, the debris was more heavily populated by mattresses, furniture and appliances from flooded homes than it was with the tree limbs and roof tiles that filled roadside mounds in 2017.

More:Cape Romano dome homes sunk by Hurricane Ian

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

Problems take a slight turn

One problem on Marco and neighboring Goodland, as in other cities along Southwest Florida, is that structures are uninhabitable — or, with no electricity and rising heat and humidity, grossly uncomfortable.

The city as identified 302 residential and 61 commercial structures that sustained damage from Hurricane Ian. However, with its blend of Gulf-front high-rise buildings and laid-back neighborhoods with golf cart gadabouts, there are some different pressing issues.

Inaccessible condos: "There are 21 condo buildings with elevators that are not working. We want to be sure residents can get up and down safely and they can evacuate in the event of an emergency," Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius wrote in an email enumerating the city's major issues.

Flaming golf carts: The need to stop residents from inadvertently starting fires with their vehicles is one Lucius would like to broadcast. All of the vehicles that were submerged were in salt water, which means it's on its way to rusting, and certainly capable of shorting out when residents yield to the temptation to try to start them.

"There have been 13 car fires since Hurricane Ian," Lucius' email noted. "Residents should be cautious when starting a car or golf cart that was submerged, especially if it is in the garage." 

Evaporating contractors: Signs have been popping up along Collier Boulevard, offering everything from reroofing to mold cleanup, and Lucius has one word that should govern all contractors: Licensed. 

The city offers a page of resources for residents that would work well for the rest of Collier County, too, under its Hurricane Update Page at cityofmarcoisland.com.

Its first document is one with advice on hiring contractors for repairs.

A land of French drains and deadman anchors: Lucius' note pointed out that seawalls and docks should all be checked for damage post-storm.  A  manual, available on the the city's website as Seawall Owner's Manual (May 2018), describes the components that must operate correctly, which include such devices as French drains to relieve pressure behind the wall and deadman anchors that keep the seawall upright.

The critical purpose of these seawalls on islands like Marco, it points out, is not to keep the sea out, but the land in.

More:'We didn't let anything stop us': Nonprofit feeds thousands after Hurricane Ian

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

Island homes were their dream

In Marco, many stricken homes were bought to be a winter refuge, and may be owned by ailing parents, or may be leveraged for their income so their own buyers can enjoy them part-time.

Paul Mikolinski walks past an entry wall where drywall was removed in his family's condo at Ville de Marco West. Hurricane debris and cleanup can be found all along the Coast. Monday, Oct 10, 2022, we took a look at the areas on and around Marco island. Condos, Home and businesses in the Old Marco area clean out their belongings after storm surge filled the area. "I'm just glad my parents weren't here for this" Paul said as he talks about cleaning out the condo his family has owned for years.

Paul Mikolinski regards his parents' first floor condo at the Ville de Marco West ruefully: "They're just hoping to see it again," he said, looking at walls that had been shorn of their drywall up to near half height, bowed kitchen cabinet doors and a floor that must be replaced. 

It is the second time for Mikolinski, 65, who helped his parents clean up after Hurricane Irma, agreeing to partner with them on the restored condo. Then an upstairs condo leaked into theirs. More repairs.

"And with this hurricane," he said, chuckling, "they're never going to want to partner with me on anything again.

"We're hoping (to bring them back). But they're saying 18 months," he said of the condo board's time estimates of a total cleanup. "By that time, he'll be 92." Mikolinski's mother could be 89 at that point. 

"Every bit of it (is gone)," he said of the furnishings. He's grateful there was no car there and that his mother and stepfather, Birgit and Art Squicciarini, were in their northern home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"My mother's so upset. I said 'Ma, I'll see what I can salvage."

For many first-story condo owners, the salvageables were the upper level kitchen cupboards and the microwave oven.

Cyndi Urbano, 58, of Hammond, Indiana, figured it would be hard to find the elements of home life here after a hurricane. So she bought what she needed and hauled it down in a trailer: new drywall, even a kitchen range.

"I like to be organized," she declared. "I figured I wouldn't be able to buy any of this down here." 

They fell in love with the place

Her family has owned the two-story home a scant 18 months. She and her husband, Urbano explained, have five adult children between them, and they bought the waterside two-story dwelling in Goodland so they could all vacation together without astronomical expenses.

They could boat; they could jet-ski: "I fell in love with the hot tub. I like the layout. I like the way it all flows," she recalled. 

The beauty of this house was that it also could be rented, to help them pay for it. But it has also a heavy commitment this year. A neighbor inspected the home after Hurricane Ian and Cyndi Urbano sprang into action. 

Urbano said they benefitted from the previous owners' brush with hurricanes, and added a saving grace of their own: 

  • Outlets were at least 3 feet off the floor, eliminating a lot of electrical problems.
  • The ground floor was tiled in concrete,  with little grout and wipe-down cleaning after a hurricane.
  • Drywall had been installed horizontally, so segments of wall needed fewer pieces of drywall for repairs. 
  • The second story has a kitchenette, added by the Urbanos, with a microwave oven, and it became the main cooking area after Ian ruined the ground-floor kitchen appliances.

Her husband took time off work to join her. Three workers, who were now bunking in the rental space, had come down to her friend, Johnetta Braunm, had come along to paint. Urbano reflected wryly on her future as a Florida homeowner:

"My neighbor says he's lived through 19 hurricanes, but he's only had to totally redo his place four times."

Homeowners: What to know 

Assistant Marco Island City Manager Casey Lucius answered questions on what Marco Island residents should know as they begin repairs on waterlogged homes and waterfront property:

What can residents do in terms of tearing things out of their homes?

Residents can begin removing items or elements necessary to prevent further damage or mold. They can take necessary measures to prevent injury or structural collapse. We are not asking owners to get a permit to take out drywall.

Is there a limit on how much drywall can come out?

No, except for fire rated assemblies. We ask that residents reach out to the building official or fire marshal so we can work with property owners to maintain the fire-rated separations or mitigate fire hazards for resident safety. Email permitdesk@cityofmarcoisland.com with questions.

Does it require someone to come out to do inspection before or after the work is done?

Permits and inspections will be required for remediation work before any drywall is hung, except for minor drywall and insulation replacement that does not affect any cabinets, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, or structural elements. In this case, a permit for single family homes is not required.

What’s the limitation on bringing a trailer onto your property for alternate housing?

Trailers and RVs for living and sleeping are prohibited, however, City Council will evaluate this at their next meeting on Oct. 17

What are residents asking about?

Many ask about the debris pick-up schedule.  Debris pick up began Oct 3 and will continue for a few weeks, although we do not have a street-by-street schedule.