By Sandra Pound
Submitted by her friend, Gabrielle Blair
I am safe and all right, as are my children and their families, but we’re all stressed and traumatized after enduring Hurricane Ian five days ago. Many power lines and cell phone towers were destroyed, and not until late last night did I have any electricity since last Wednesday afternoon. Cell phone service was intermittent and unreliable and there was a twelve- to fourteen- hour delay in receiving text messages from family members. When I tried calling my daughter, she never heard her cell phone ring, nor did she receive my voice mail messages until the next day, but thankfully I was able to reach her husband. They share the same cell phone plan. Go figure why one phone was okay, the other was not.
The worst of the hurricane affected my neighborhood midafternoon on Wednesday, the 28th, when it made landfall, and I lost all power at precisely 4:40 pm. Suddenly, the sky turned dark gray; the wind was howling like a pack of angry wolves; tall trees with thick trunks were swaying to and fro; debris was flying everywhere; and extremely heavy rain was pelting down like large sheets flapping. Screens were ripped from my windows and sliding glass doors on the back of my house. Heavy rain was seeping beneath my doors faster than I could stuff towels and grab more.
Everywhere you look now there are downed power lines, traffic lights on the ground, flattened or flooded houses, office buildings and hotels; broken stop signs, street signs, trees snapped in two like broken matchsticks, damaged cars where the owners had no garage.
My landline remained connected, but without power the answering machine couldn’t pick up messages; thus it kept ringing until the caller hung up. Had I heard the telephone ringing, I certainly would’ve answered it. I had no internet and was unable to charge my cell phone which ran out of battery “juice” on Thursday afternoon. My car charger broke several months ago and I hadn’t rushed to get another one, not thinking about a power outage resulting from a major hurricane.
Having lived through three previous major hurricanes, Charley in 2004, Wilma in 2005, and Irma in 2017, I was not afraid to shelter-in-place by myself, yet never fathomed that Ian would be way worse than the prior storms. To put it mildly, it has been a scary, challenging, overwhelming, eerie, stressful, emotional week. My daughter’s two cats were so terrified, they refused to venture out from under the bed for two days, in spite of gentle coaxing and a bowl of food and water left there. Obviously they sensed something awful was taking place during the height of the hurricane.
Ian was a monster storm. Describing the damage is akin to telling somebody what salt tastes like. It looks like a war zone from a horror movie. Many roads are flooded and impassable, so people are staying inside to free up the streets for first responders. There’s a temporary citywide curfew from 9:00 PM until 6:00 AM except for police, ambulances, fire department and road crews repairing downed power lines. Red Cross volunteers and National Guard workers have come to help in various and sundry ways: handing out bottled water, Styrofoam boxes of warm, cooked food, first aid supplies, baby diapers, fresh fruit, used clothing and shoes. Some area bridges are broken in half—strong steel-and-concrete bridges which heavy traffic crosses over to reach the barrier islands like Sanibel, Marco Island, Matlacha, Bokeelia and Pine Island. In nearby Cape Coral almost every home, church, and store was flooded.
My grandson’s girlfriend said that they were wading in ankle-deep, dirty water inside her home shortly after Ian made landfall. She is one of five kids, and now the entire family is separated in various homes, staying with friends or relatives elsewhere. All schools here in Lee County, population 800,000, are closed for at least another week or longer. Numerous school buildings are flooded and some have no roof over the classrooms. Aerial pictures don’t show the full extent of all the destruction everywhere. Many banks are closed unless power on that specific street has been restored. Obtaining cash from ATMs is a hit-or-miss thing. The few stores which have opened are accepting cash only since credit cards can’t be connected to the registers.
My daughter’s hair and nail salon flooded; the floor will need replacing and walls painted again, recently painted in August. At her house, their six-foot-tall backyard fence is gone except for a few boards, and their backyard is so torn up it looks like a deranged giant came through the grass with an axe, chopping, Chopping, CHOPPING with each and every step.
Shrubbery, leaves, tree limbs, and other debris have littered every inch of my back and front yards. On Friday morning my son helped me carry the majority of that dirty mess to the front curb for pickup by the city whenever they can get around to it, but storefront businesses with such debris will be taken care of first. The stack at my place is almost as tall as I am (5 ft. 4 inches) and approximately ten feet in length. Every front curb on my street and the surrounding streets looks the same; some look worse. Never in my entire life have I ever sweated so much out in the hot sun from manual labor. Later I was almost too tired to walk straight. My mailbox was flat on the ground, but with some effort, I bent it back almost straight up. The very tall pine tree in my back yard was dancing to and fro towards my roof during the hurricane, and I was praying aloud that it wouldn’t crash into the house, because with 150 mile per hour winds and torrential downpour, I could not run outside to escape it.
One neighbor opened their main door the morning following the hurricane and found it blocked by a big trampoline that had gone airborne from another’s yard. A friend across town found two trash Dumpsters in their driveway and no idea who those belong to. Yet another pal has found a blue hot tub cover, which apparently blew off of somebody’s back porch. The list goes on and on. Someone showed me photos of a lovely, white speedboat on the street near their house, which is near the Caloosahatchee River, lying sideways as if placed there to block right-hand-lane traffic. Boats in nearby harbors were tossed around like toys, atop one another in heaps, all damaged.
Can you imagine all of a sudden, 800,000 residents in the county with no power in a hot, humid tropical climate? As the sun set last Wednesday, we were all in darkness except for flashlights and candles. Looking out my front door it appeared to be a strange ghost town. All I could do past 8:00 PM in the pitch black was read by candlelight.
Temperature in my home reached 85 degrees. I slept in my birthday suit and still did not feel comfortably cool. When I finally did fall asleep for the first three nights following the catastrophic storm, I had horrible nightmares of Ian striking yet again. Without screens, I did not open windows for risk of mosquitoes from the canal that runs behind my house.
Some folks have generators, but they are expensive and I don’t own one. After losing nearly everything in my refrigerator and freezer again like I did five years ago when Hurricane Irma hit, I reckon my next big purchase will be a generator after all. My daughter ended up buying one yesterday, and she’s glad they did. They’ve heard it might be another week until linemen crews restore power in their area. My son’s family who live in Ft. Myers have running water but still no electricity, and even though I told them to come stay here since my house is cool again as of last night, they spent last night at a motel where his wife works, because the manager is allowing employees one free room until they get power in their homes. My daughter’s family live in North Ft. Myers, and both cities were harder hit than Lehigh where I live. Almost the entire city of Cape Coral was flooded. Beautiful Ft. Myers Beach is partially destroyed. So is Sanibel. Both are very popular tourist destinations.
I choose to believe that God will bring something good from all this. Please pray for those unfortunate people who lost their homes, and families who lost loved ones. It has been nothing short of horrendous, emotional and frightening. I am not exaggerating.
I am very grateful that my house was spared, but much more grateful that my family members are safe. About 8:00 last night my power finally came back on, so that is another thing I’m grateful for.
It is not my intention to complain. It’s merely my way of explaining what has occurred here in southwest Florida as an eyewitness to one of the absolute worst hurricanes this country has ever experienced. Now I need to go outside and pick up several more armloads of debris littering the yard and cart it to the street curb. Then I will shower and try to rest. Floridians are resilient and will eventually recover from this natural disaster.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com