The small unincorporated Lee County community of Iona lies a few miles east of Fort Myers Beach, still closed off to the public while rescue crews search through what is reported to be complete devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
More than 40 deaths in Lee County have been connected to Ian so far.
While the damage from Ian isn’t as severe in Iona as it is in Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island or Captiva, many of its homes are completely destroyed. By the waterlines left on the inside walls and facades of mobile homes, apartment complexes and prefab houses, Ian’s surge was every bit as high as five feet in some places and higher in others.
Firefighters and police officers with Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 7 from Tallahassee rode street-to-street in all-terrain vehicles. A member who declined to give his name said the unit was still looking for survivors and those who didn’t make it.
With hammers and crow bars, Task Force 7 members searched every home in the area.
“It’s a total loss,” Michele Reidy said of the downstairs Pine Needle Lane apartment where her daughter and granddaughter lived until Thursday.
Reidy, 56, lives in an upstairs unit of the two-story building. Water reached her balcony, flooding her home so badly that almost all of her belongings are not salvageable.
Reidy and her family weren’t home for the storm. She works for American Airlines, and the company put them up in a nearby hotel.
She came back Thursday afternoon to find she will probably have to vacate her home of almost three years. But, for the time being, she is staying in her apartment, which was still soaked. The downstairs unit’s floor was slippery with a mix of mud from canals and yard soil. The surge ransacked the apartment. Furniture was strewn all around. The refrigerator was knocked over. Food was all over the floor.
Reidy said it’s likely American Airlines will transfer her to another town.
“I might be heading to Arizona. I probably will after this,” Reidy said. “I’ve been here for a while now, so it might be time.”
One aspect of her life keeps Reidy tethered to some semblance of happiness, her shepherd mix dog Ivory.
“Thank God I have her,” Reidy said. “I don’t know what I would do.”
Chris Murawski, 66, left her home on Sanibel Island around 11 p.m. Tuesday after officials warned they may close the causeway connecting it to the mainland. She stayed with friends on Pine Needle Lane to find a safe place to ride out the storm, but that decision nearly turned deadly.
Wednesday afternoon, flood water began flowing into the downstairs apartment so fast that she and her friends had to climb out the window and run to the upstairs unit, where residents there let them in. Her friends’ apartment was left in ruins, like all of their neighbors.
“They lost everything. Everyone around here did, as you can notice,” Murawski said.
She doesn’t know the extent of the damage to her home on Sanibel, but she’s certain there’s no good news.
“I’ve heard bits and pieces. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get back there for a long time, Murawski said.
Murawski has lived in Sanibel for 43 years. She’s seen bad tropical storms before, but said Ian made even Hurricane Charley, a powerful Category 4 storm that hit Southwest Florida in 2004, “look like a thunderstorm.”
Murawski was in a positive mood Sunday standing outside the ravaged apartment building. She said many people have stopped by to help, bringing food and water. Neighbors facing their own hardships have also come to each other’s aid, offering what little they can.
“Everyone has been so kind. If there’s anything good about this, it’s the people coming together,” Murawski said. “We’re lucky to be alive. I don’t know to do next. We’re all in the same boat, surrounded by good people. I think that makes a difference.”
Jordan Weaver, 34, a landscaper, rode out the storm inside the Pine Needle Lane house he just moved into a few months ago from nearby San Carlos Park. Outside the house, there was about four feet of surge, he said. Inside, although flooded, was spared much of the damage inflicted on his neighbors’ homes. All three of his vehicles, including his Ford F-150 pickup truck he uses for work, were lost to the flood.
“I can tell you the first half of the storm wasn’t nearly as bad as the second half when the eye passed. That part did all the damage,” Weaver said.
Across the street at the Sunshine Mobile Village, most of the trailers and prefab houses were shredded by wind and flooding. Aluminum awnings were twisted in driveways and lying in the middle of streets.
Harlan Wooten, 86, sat in a chair under an umbrella while his daughter and son-in-law removed items from inside his mobile home, where he’s lived for 29 years. Compared to his neighbors, his trailer looked pretty good from the outside, but looks are deceiving.
“The insides are nothing but four inches of mud. You got to watch it, or you’ll go through the floor,” Wooten said.
He evacuated, staying in a nearby three-story condominium. Wooten said he always evacuates for oncoming hurricanes, noting a mobile home in a low-lying area is never a safe place to stay even during a tropical storm. One of his neighbors stayed and only survived the rising flood waters by standing on top of his kitchen table.
“It’s stupid. You don’t stay in [crap] like this,” Wooten said.