I spent some time this weekend searching Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian. More specifically,  helping a friend pick through the rubble of what used to be her home.

It’s the first time I’ve been on the beach since the storm four weeks ago. Prior to this, I helped another friend (Louise)  salvage items from her parents home off of Main Street at the base of the beach bridge. Pictures and story here. It was heartbreaking. She was with me on this second salvage trip.

Approaching the big bridge, I felt a knot of anxiety growing in my stomach. I remember the very first time I crossed that bridge. It was during the job interview that brought me to Southwest Florida. I arrived via the Palm Beach Blvd. exit from I-75. Almost 30 years ago, there were no chic high rises along the river. My first impression of the city was, well, uninspiring to say the least.

Then my soon to be boss took me on a tour. We left the station on Palm Beach Blvd. and drove down McGregor. I loved the tall swaying palms, the hidden oasis of the Edison and Ford estates. Fort Myers was beginning to look a little better.

Crossing the bridge to Fort Myers Beach

However, when we topped the bridge going to Fort Myers Beach, I exhaled. I knew I was home. There is something about the steep incline, cresting the bridge, then seeing the beach and water unfold in front of you. It’s a moment of decompression and it never gets old.  But this time I crossed it with dread. I tried to hold back the dam of tears, however the cracks were already forming and finally gave way. It was just as heartbreaking as I had feared.

church

Searching Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian, this church was completely gutted inside. However, the stained glass windows were remarkably spared.

Searching Fort Myers Beach

We drove down Estero Blvd, hardly recognizing where we  were at times. If I had not been following my friend, Tracey Stagner, I would never have found the sandy lot that used to hold her home. Like many people, she evacuated the island as Hurricane Ian approached, never imagining the only possessions she would have were those packed in her car.

Her home was one lot back from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s completely gone. Part of it ended up across Estero Blvd in the backyard of another destroyed property. She recognized the roof, her pink front door and part of her couch sticking out from underneath. Also under the pitched roof was a single, purple UGG boot. Remember the wicked witch’s ruby slippers under Dorothy’s house in the movie the “Wizard of Oz?” It was oddly similar.

Click the arrow in the photo below for a video

Our mission was to try and find things that were of sentimental value to her. Like the Pandora bracelets from her father. Even a fragment of some furniture the two of them had restored while he was alive. We did not find either. However, we did find some of her favorite plates from local artist Leoma Lovegrove, still intact. Also. a battered sweatshirt from a lost love that kept her warm on a few dark nights.

At the end of the day yes, those all just “things.” But when you are left with “no- things”, those little things mean everything. My heart goes out to the thousands of others in Tracey’s shoes. Please take care of yourselves.

Finally, here are some photos of what we found while searching Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian.

 

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