One Year After Ian
Many throughout Cape Coral have rebuilt
At the one-year mark since Hurricane Ian devastated Southwest Florida as a near Category-5 storm, many throughout Cape Coral have rebuilt, some are still working to get back on their feet, and some have had to move on to another journey.
One thing is for certain, and that’s no one that was here could ever forget what occurred on Sept. 28, 2022.
Wounds still continue to heal now 12 months later, through ceremonies such as the one that took place Thursday morning at Reflections Park in Cape Coral where a monument dedicated to the effort of city employees and in momory of the dead was unveiled, and the city-hosted resilience rally to take place Friday evening.
“As Mayor of Cape Coral, I am proud that our community has made remarkable strides in recovery one year after Hurricane Ian,” said Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter via email. “We’ve rebuilt homes, restored essential services, and strengthened our preparedness for future challenges. Together, we’ve proven that Cape Coral’s spirit is unbreakable, and we remain committed to ensuring a safer, more resilient future for all our residents.”
Ian, the third-costliest hurricane in United States history forever changed the lives, and landscape, that so many call home.
With sustained wind gusts over 150 mph, Hurricane Ian is a storm that will never be forgotten by those who experienced its power. The system spanned more than 500 miles wide and was the most substantial storm to ever hit the Southwest Florida.
After evolving into a tropical storm on Sept. 21, by the time Ian had arrived to the Gulf side of Florida, it had increased to a Category 4 level storm, and even reached Category 5 criteria before making landfall at Cayo Costa just below peak strength.
Originally forecasted to impact further north along the coast, Ian had other plans and veered right towards Southwest Florida, officially arriving on Sept. 28.
When the wind and rain subsided, thousands of homes, and lives, were lost.
Ultimately, Ian resulted in 161 fatalities, 149 of which were in Florida with 72 occurring in Lee County, far and away the deadliest county for Ian.
Barrier islands were underwater, bridges were collapsing, roofs were being ripped off like an old Band-Aid.
Lee County officials report the total estimated cost of the storm sits at $297.3 million, with the majority of costs associated with debris removal, solid waste, and emergency protective measures.
Since the storm, 6.29 million cubic yards of debris has been collected throughout the county, to go along with 3.83 million in vegetation, 2.3 million in construction and demolition debris, 36,000 cubic yards of concrete and 145,000 cubic yards of dirty sand.
“In experiencing the storm’s sheer power, we were concerned for the well-being of our residents,” Gunter said. “In the immediate aftermath, we were determined to restore services and ensure safety throughout the city. We prayed for those who suffered losses, and our spirits were tested as we faced adversity together. Hurricane Ian left its mark on our community, and while we were knocked down, we were not knocked out. The storm and the weeks that followed reminded us that with strength, compassion, and determination, we would rebuild and recover.”
The city is on the road to recovery, officials said, adding they are proud of staff efforts in the wake of Ian, many of whom suffered personal loss.
“Despite Hurricane Ian being the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history, Cape Coral made significant strides in recovery right away. We were the first city in the area to restore water to its residents, preventing an evacuation of Cape Coral Hospital, and we provided water to our neighbors in Matlacha when their water plant wasn’t able to,” said city manager Michael Ilczyszyn, who at the time of the storm was director of Public Works.
“We then worked earnestly to restore the rest of Cape Coral’s infrastructure and remain resolute on the path of recovery. At this point, a year after the storm, work continues with FEMA inspections, review, and approval to proceed with permanent work. Traffic signal restoration will begin in November and should be complete within six months. Cape Coral’s homes are at varying stages of repair, and our local businesses have shown incredible resilience. Our community has persevered in the face of this adversity, demonstrating that even in the wake of our biggest challenges, Cape Coral’s strength knows no bounds?”
Though Ian’s might was impressive, it could not overshadow the heart and strength of Cape Coral’s own.
“Looking back at the past year, I’m in awe of our residents’ remarkable recovery following the storm,” Gunter said. “Amidst the challenges, we witnessed incredible acts of kindness, neighbors helping neighbors, and a deep sense of unity that continues to define us. To those still on the path of rebuilding, remember that your community is here for you. Together, we will support each other, rebuild what was lost, and forge a brighter, more resilient future for Cape Coral.”
The city learned Thursday it would be receiving $51 million in state recovery funds.
Gunter said Cape Coral City Council has also worked to ensure the Cape is best prepared for the inevitable, and that’s when another major hurricane will arrive in Southwest Florida.
“Responding to and recovering from Hurricane Ian has been a formidable test for our city,” Gunter said. “It’s also been a powerful lesson that better prepares us for future storms. We’ve strengthened our emergency response systems, enhanced public works resilience, and improved community education and preparedness. Our experience with Ian has made us stronger, and we’re committed to continuing these efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents in the face of any future challenge.”