6 months after Ian: Recovering Florida communities prepare for start of another hurricane season

The Category 4 storm in Florida wreaked havoc, destroyed lives, businesses and homes, with many people still displaced today.

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. – Florida communities are still actively recovering from Hurricane Ian's wrath six months ago while preparing for the start of another hurricane season in just a few months.

The deadly Category 4 storm reached Florida on Sept. 28 and wreaked havoc as it destroyed lives, businesses and homes, with many people still displaced today.

Tropical Depression 9 formed into Tropical Storm Ian on the night of Sept. 23, getting stronger as it made its way to the coastal U.S. As it began its approach to Florida, damage in the Gulf of Mexico could be seen in Cuba's Pinar del Río as the storm ripped off roofs while making landfall as a major Category 3 hurricane.

 Ian made a third and final U.S. landfall in South Carolina two days after slamming into Florida.

Including the entire path of the storm, power outages during Ian likely added up to at least 13 million. Cuba experienced an island-wide blackout when Ian tore across the western side of the island. The Carolinas reported thousands of outages when Ian made its final landfall Sept. 30.

Hurricane Ian is now the fourth-strongest storm to make landfall in Florida, with maximum winds of 150 miles per hour.


'It was the scariest thing I’ve went through’

Today, there's a lasting impact of all the lives that were lost from Ian. According to the state's medical examiner, 149 died in Florida because of the hurricane.

Most of the fatalities reported in Florida were in Lee County. That’s where popular barrier islands like Pine Island and Sanibel Island were wrecked by storm surge and powerful wind as Ian came ashore, cutting them off from the mainland and complicating rescue operations.

"It was the scariest thing I’ve went through, and I hope we never have to do it again," said Darcy Bishop, a Hurricane Ian survivor who fought off rising floodwaters to save her disabled brothers.

Stories of tragedy and loss were separated by heroic acts as families fought ting to save their loved ones.  

"I just wanted to save my brother," Bishop said. "My other brother in a wheelchair, I got him out of the wheelchair to the landing, and I had to inch him stair by stair as the water rose."


Road to recovery

While spring break visitors around ground zero of Fort Myers Beach might not visually see a lot of the progress, there's still a lot of work to be had.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin B. Anderson said there were about 300 homes that were uninhabitable after Ian. About 50 of those homes will probably have to be demolished. 

"It's getting people to take the threat of a storm seriously and to evacuate when that order is issued," Anderson said. "As we saw, we had extensive loss of life in the county. We didn't suffer any in the city, but we did in the county."

Anderson said the city’s fire department did upwards of 200 rescues in the first 12 hours after the storm passed.

"I think one of the biggest wins was getting the debris picked up as quick as we did. As you know, the debris is a constant reminder of what just happened," he added.

Sanibel Island Mayor Holly Smith warned people it would be a long road ahead after the island saw substantial damage. Hurricane Ian destroyed the Sanibel Causeway, the three-mile long bridge connecting Sanibel Island to Florida

"Our power grid is out. The water is being worked on. Our sewers are being worked on. We have a city that we’re rebuilding," Smith said after the storm. "We’re going to be a living a different way for a while."

Wednesday is the last day for residents and businesses in Fort Myers area to apply to get that debris picked up as part of efforts from emergency management. 

The 2023 hurricane season is set to begin on June 1, and the fading La Niña pattern will impact this year's hurricane season activity.