For Connie Irvin, 82, and her partner, Cheryl Lange, the cost of Hurricane Ian’s devastating tear across Florida was clear. “Our entire community is wiped out,” said Irvin.
The pair lost their mobile home on Sanibel Island off the state’s west coast and are now homeless, staying in a motel inland about 35 miles away near Naples, Florida, that currently has no electricity.
“It’s been very difficult. I now know what it’s like to be homeless and not have simple things like bathroom availability. We are lucky in that we are alive. There are a lot of people on Sanibel and down in Fort Myers that have lost their lives, and where I’m staying there are a lot of homeless people now,” Irvin added.
The damage Ian has inflicted on Florida has been immense. The monster storm made landfall near the state in the Fort Myers/Naples area, then traversed up and across to the eastern part of the state, grazing the St Augustine and Jacksonville area before regaining hurricane strength and heading toward South Carolina.
At least 21 deaths have now been confirmed in Florida, with that number expected to rise as emergency crews continue to respond to affected areas, and the extent of the damage is still being assessed, with an anticipated years-long recovery ahead.
For Irvin and Lange that recovery looks hard – as it is for many low-income Floridians, who are often hit hardest by the terrible losses that natural disasters can wreak.
They had no insurance because of its high cost, as both rely on social security for their income. Irvin still does carpentry work for extra money, although she is not sure if her tools made it through the hurricane. They managed to evacuate with their dog, Charley, and a few belongings onTuesday evening before the storm hit, and they spent the night a few miles inland in a parking garage to ride out the tempest.
Because of power outages, businesses that are open accept only cash and maintaining contact with loved ones has been difficult. Irvin and Lange are retired teachers, and Irvin served in the coast guard for more than nine years. They are hoping to be able to return to where their home was soon so they can salvage what they can. But the only bridge to Sanibel Island was destroyed in the hurricane, making rescues difficult and the barrier island accessible only by boat or helicopter.
“The enormity of it didn’t hit me until today,” Irvin said. “All we can do is salvage some things like photo albums.”
Many others are in the same dire straits.
Dwayne Parks of Lakeland, Florida, and his girlfriend experienced significant damage from the hurricane to their home, with flooding through the house of about a foot of water and damage to their roof. They are now trying to secure a loan in order to cover the $500 deductible their insurance requires before they are able to file a claim, and they are still without power.
“We weren’t prepared, we didn’t think it was going to hit here,” said Parks. “We had to ride it out. It tore everything off on the roof, flooded the house. This house is her pride and joy – she’s devastated.”
Family members pleaded on social media for help in getting in contact with loved ones they couldn’t reach in areas with power outages.
Heather Marie lives in California and has struggled to connect with her elderly father, Jesse Forthun, in St James, Florida. She lost contact with him as his house was flooding and he lost power and cellphone service. He has medical problems, and she is trying to get him to California.
“I’m not sure of the details about anything. There was supposed to be a crew going to check him this morning, but I’ve heard nothing,” she said. “It’s so hard for me to do anything from California. It’s been horrific. He’s there all alone.”
GoFundMe campaigns are being started on behalf of people who have lost their homes, apartments, cars and nearly all their personal belongings. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has launched a website for individuals to apply for disaster assistance, and the Small Business Administration has launched a website for businesses, homeowners, renters and non-profits in approved Florida counties to apply for individual assistance.
Fema has also requested people wanting to volunteer to do so through VolunteerFlorida.org and not to self-deploy to affected areas.