Mountains of debris line every street, piling up the same heartbreaking array of drenched furniture, battered appliances and beloved memorabilia.
Metal plates hang in the barren trees like a garland.
RestaurantsShops and resorts that were bustling with patrons just a month ago are now empty, some with entire sections.
Sanibel Island, known as Shard of Heaven, now looks at the horrific frontier Residents and businesses have returned to their homesAnd for the first time since then, Hurricane Ian falls.
The temporarily restored bridge reopened Wednesday morning, giving Sanibel its lifeline to the mainland and allowing more crews to come to the island to continue restoration efforts.
Journey across the bridge
On Thursday, traffic was lighter than expected upon reaching the bridge on the second day it opened, barely waited 15 minutes to reach the first checkpoint, which meant passing through the second point right at the bridge’s base.
The real test will be driving on the actual bridge, which has been the source of much speculation during the three weeks of rebuilding. How will you look? Will it just be a dirt road? Was it safe?
The builders were able to create a two-lane paved road in less than a month. The main difference from the original bridge was the lack of gardens along the bridge, which fell victim to Ian’s winds and storm surge. As Governor Ron DeSantis promised Wednesday, there was also a significant amount of construction underway alongside the road, and work on permanent repairs.
Back to the island: Broken homes, slick spray, wondering how to rebuild
Sanibel Road opens Two days ahead of schedule, says DeSantis
Once on the island, facilities are clearly scarce, with dozens of crews working quickly to restore power and water. There was no running water, no open gas stations, and officials estimate that electricity will be back by October 31.
Portable restrooms are set up all over the island, as well as a free LeeTran shuttle from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
On the beach, a jumble of water bottles, random household items, and souvenirs from residents protrude from the sand among the thousands of unbroken white shells that have washed ashore.
Traffic conditions remained light throughout Sanibel, the only obstacles being wreck trucks, which blocked the roads slightly.
There was little sense of hope in the air as crews picked up scrap heaps and laid power lines to restore vital facilities, giving locals a faint sense of victory as they made their way to their property to begin their clean-up operations. . Here are some of their stories on their return:
“I picked up the building and shook it.”
Sanibel Deli & Coffee Factory has been a staple on the island for nearly 14 years, bringing a bit of New York cuisine to the small Florida community.
Located in a plaza along Palm Ridge Road, it’s the perfect place before the storm for both locals and tourists to enjoy dining on the way to the beach, and their menu still reads their daily lunch specials.
Owner Jeff Weigel said he and his son originally saw the deli on the Monday after the storm, leaving from Bunche Beach on a kayak to survey the damage.
While fortunately the restaurant had no outside damage, the scene he saw from the back door was a different story. He describes it as “someone picked the building and shook it”.
Large appliances have been overturned and smashed, as a result of which the cooling systems suffer. A mixture of dirt and sand usually coats floors, turning into wet mud when it touches rainwater puddles. A golden “Welcome” banner sits agonizingly among the debris strewn along the floor.
However, the first thing you notice is the smell; Three weeks of rotting meat, ice cream, and vegetables created the most disgusting cologne.
Weigel said the first thing he noticed was a Yankees baseball bat sitting outside, usually hanging in the bathroom wall.
He said he would do anything to watch a video of what happened inside the deli throughout the storm.
“If someone said to me, ‘Hey, for $100, I have a video of what happened inside your restaurant during the storm,’ I want it in a minute,” Weigel said.
Although he was initially frustrated with the damage, he did as much as he could, trying to clean up the delicious foods to unlock them as fast as he could. Members of the public have stopped by to check on him and ask him about plans to reopen, which he said has been rewarding throughout this difficult time.
My car is in my living room.
Walking up the second floor of Amy Marto’s home, you’d never know a Category 4 storm had swept through. Besides losing power and water, everything is still in place.
Downstairs tells a completely different story.
Torn walls and smashed floors. Valuables, like the picture of her son and grandmother, are stashed throughout the property, as if playing the toughest game of treasure hunting.
Two cars were parked in her pool, and the third was parked in her former living room.
With all the wind outside, she said, she had never heard her come before.
Marto weathered the storm with her son and mother at her home in Sanibel, and wasn’t particularly worried about Ian because she had never left because of other hurricanes in the past.
She remembers her son’s call to her that the water was rising outside. After taking a special look at the balcony, she remembers running to her wardrobe downstairs and putting whatever she can on the top shelf to protect it.
She said she would have picked up more stuff earlier, knowing now that the top shelf of her wardrobe would end up with it. Nevertheless, she remained generally positive as she walked around her property,
The family ended up being evacuated from Sanibel on Friday, September 30th. Marto grabbed a backpack with personal items to take back to Fort Myers, her mother brought cash and jewelry, and her son brought his skateboard and Xbox.
She has only returned to Sanibel a few times since then. Marto still works at Sanibel Holiday Rentals when she can, adding that her boss has been great at giving people time off while addressing their own destruction, though she welcomes the distraction of checking out the property.
“I feel really lucky because I know so many people are out of work,” Marto said. “Coming here and doing things for the other owners…I’m very happy to do that.”
Before checking out her home on Thursday afternoon, she checked two of her rental properties in the same building.
Similar to her home, the differences were day and night by level.
The tenant on the first floor had the same story for many residents, and their unit was completely destroyed by Storm Ian. Marto documented the damage to the tenant, showing where the hurricane shutters were placed hours before Ian was hit.
“It’s like a bomb that went off,” she said, staring at the chair that perched against the wall.
For the renter on the 4th floor, the unit remained almost intact behind the hard sand on the front door. When Marto left, she indicated that she would be able to give someone some good news.
Back home, she spends her day and what her next steps are. She is currently staying in Fort Myers with her family, and is wondering if they can come home soon.
She knows one thing for sure: the next time you evacuate.
“I won’t do this again…Next time we see a tropical storm, I’ll be in Montana,” Marto said.
“It’s all gone.”
Among all the shelves behind the counter at Paper East End Market, co-owner Debra Campana’s $1,200 espresso machine has been discarded.
Along with other businesses in the Periwinkle Way, the storm was rumbling in from within, with food and merchandise strewn across the floor. Looking at the wreckage, Campana admits it’s all gone.
Ovens, refrigeration, just about everything.
She describes a heartbreaking sight to see the damage and how unbelievable it was. “But we are alive,” she adds with a weary sigh.
Throughout the cleanup taking place around her, co-workers, family, and friends climbed onto the help board, coming together as a community to help the Campanas. As she stood surveying the damage, several assistants would offer Campana a hand, or rest, as she could no longer bring herself to return to the market anymore.
Packing their white van to head to their other restaurant, 400 Rabbits, Campana honestly said she wasn’t sure what their next move would be. They live in Cape Coral now, as their home in Sanibel has been destroyed.
But she said they will keep moving forward and see what happens, hoping to reopen the door soon.
“There is a lesson to be learned from all of this but for now… I don’t know what this is,” Campana said.
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