Ian leaves scenes of despair | News, Sports, Jobs

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Just days after Hurricane Ian hit, a crowd of locals gathered under a huge banyan tree at a motel’s outdoor tiki bar for drink specials and live music. Less than 10 miles away, crews were finishing the search for bodies on a coastal barrier island. Even closer, entire families were trying to make themselves comfortable for the night in a mass shelter housing more than 500 storm victims.

On a coast where a few miles meant the difference between life and death, relief and ruin, the contrasting scenes of reality less than two weeks after the hurricane hit are shocking, and they show just how much a disaster can mean so many different things to different people.

Arlan Fuller saw the disparity while working in the hurricane zone serving marginalized communities with Project Hope, a nonprofit that provides medical relief services. A few factors seem to explain the big differences from place to place, he said: People and places closest to the coast tend to have the worst, as do people with lower incomes.

“There’s an interesting combination of location, the strength of the structure people lived in, and the means,” Fuller said.

On Pine Island, where the state quickly erected a temporary bridge to replace the one swept away by the storm, volunteers are distributing water, ice, food and supplies. The island’s Publix grocery store reopened with a generator faster than it seemed possible, which delighted island resident Charlotte Smith, who did not evacuate.

“My house is OK. The lower level flooded a bit. But I’m dry. They turned the water back on. Things are really good.” said Smith.

Life is very different for Shanika Caldwell, 40, who took her nine children to a mass shelter inside Hertz Arena, a minor league hockey coliseum, after another shelter in the city closed. a public secondary school so that classes can prepare to resume. The family lived in a motel before the storm but had to flee after the roof blew off, she said.

“If they say they’re going to start school next week, how am I going to get my kids from school to and from here?” she says. Nearby, a huge silver statue of an ice hockey player towered over the arena parking lot.

As three shrimpers watched an NFL football game Sunday afternoon on a TV in the shadow of a trawler pushed ashore by Ian, Alexa Alvarez wiped away tears as she stood in the rubble of Fort Myers Beach. She has fond memories of childhood trips with her brother and her parents, who lived on the island and lost their home in the storm.

“I had to see it for myself, and just say goodbye,” she says.

Ian, a strong Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph, has been charged with more than 100 fatalities, the vast majority of them in southwest Florida. It was the third deadliest storm to hit the continental United States this century behind Hurricane Katrina, which claimed an estimated 1,400 lives, and Hurricane Sandy, which claimed 233 total lives despite its weakening into a tropical storm just before it made landfall.

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