Fort Myers, Florida, was my home for most of my adult life.
It’s where I worked my first journalism job, fell in love and found a welcoming congregation that renewed my faith.
Today, the community and its surroundings are in tatters because of Hurricane Ian.
The images and footage have been hard to watch. Gone or damaged are many places I used to go to regularly.
The Fort Myers Beach pier for contemplation.
Downtown for an art walk, to hear live music or grab a drink with friends.
It’s a place where I sang lots of karaoke at dive bars.
It’s also where I went to business school.
Beautiful memories in paradise
Before it was legal for us to get married, I made my vows to my husband on a fishing dock along the Caloosahatchee River in front of 140 guests.
Southwest Florida, its politics and its combination of Midwest and multigenerational Floridian charm helped shape me as a person and as a professional. I still have many friends and relatives there.
The area politically is deep red, but I learned early lessons in civility and engaging multiple viewpoints. That helped when I moved to blue Nashville in very red Tennessee and sought to bridge some divides.
My former newspaper, The News-Press, was filled with storytellers and characters who taught me about the craft of writing, the sensibility of the community and how to be human and empathetic as a journalist.
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I’ve been following social media posts and texting folks I know. Those I know are safe but shaken and traumatized.
They need electricity, water, gas and more to pick up the pieces.
I have been impressed with their resilience, their willingness to get supplies for others, and the generosity of those who when they got power back helped their neighbors through something as simple as a hot shower or cleaning their clothes.
The community will recover and thrive
Over the 14 years I lived in the area, I covered several hurricanes, but never this bad.
Residents will need help for a long time, but I know they will rebuild better.
I was last in Fort Myers in September 2021 to celebrate the 50th birthday of my best friend.
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My husband and I also saw friends from other parts of our life and made it to Iona-Hope Episcopal Church to see the congregants whom we prayed with and sang in the choir with for a decade.
When we moved to Nashville eight years ago, we went from 80 degree weather to 30 degree temps. It was an unusually cold winter. It was the end of year-round sunshine.
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We love it here in Tennessee. But Fort Myers, Florida, will always have a part of my heart, and I want to see the community recover from this terrible storm and thrive anew.
I am certain it will.
David Plazas is the director of opinion and engagement for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee. He is an editorial board member of The Tennessean. He hosts the "Tennessee Voices" videocast and curates the Tennessee Voices and Latino Tennessee Voices newsletters. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at email@example.com or tweet to him: @davidplazas
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hurricane Ian: Fort Myers, Florida is damaged, but not defeated