FORT MYERS, Fla. – One of the hardest-hit areas as Hurricane Ian hit Florida last week was Fort Myers. Residents there are just starting to come to terms with the loss of life and property.
On Tuesday, search and rescue operations continued in the Sunshine State, nearly a week after Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
"Words can't describe the amount of devastation and human impacts and economic impact to this small beachside community," said Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Ron Martin, where storm surge and winds have decimated the area and neighboring Sanibel Island.
First responders have been working 24/7 for the past week in what they call a complicated mission because of the amount of destruction and debris.
"We have a lot of people who are missing or unaccounted for, and we are committed to finding those people," Martin said.
Meanwhile, the painstaking process of clearing out one's possessions from storm-surge-riddled homes is in full force in surrounding neighborhoods and so is the reality that loved ones were taken by Ian.
"I have a couple friends on the beach that didn't make it, and some that are still missing," Fort Myers Beach resident Scott Safford said. "Hope for the best, fear the worst."
Martin’s team has been on the barrier island of Fort Myers Beach walking and climbing across the rubble. In the days immediately after the impact, they were pulling residents out from under the piles of destruction. It’s been a daunting and depressing process even for veteran first responders.
"I have been on the job for 30 years," he said. "Tears. Tears was my first reaction if I had to give you a word. Tears streaming down my face for what this storm has meant to my community – the community I have served for all these years."
For many here, the loss of home and business is widespread and creating anxiety and intense grief. Add on the loss of life, and the mental anguish is unbearable.
"Losing a dear, dear friend … he was posting on Facebook, ‘Hey the water is coming in, the water is coming in,’" Safford said. "And his last post said, ‘God, am I scared,’ and that was it. So, like I said, stuff can be replaced – friends can't."