Count us among those who will be happy to flip the calendar over to 2023.
For Southwest Floridians — for far, far too many of us — 2022 will be the year of the hurricane.
Images shared in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian shocked. But for those of us who lived through the devastation, the pictures were mere two-dimensional snapshots of a three-dimensional catastrophe of lost lives both literal and figurative.
These are the impacts that will put the Sept. 28 storm that roared ashore at Cayo Costa just shy of a Category 5 hurricane in the record books:
Sustained winds at landfall were 150 mph, tying at the No. 5 spot in terms of strength. Storm surge was as high as 18 feet along the coastlines with Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva inundated with flood waters which also surged up the Caloosahatchee, pouring into homes, including those along the Cape’s Gold Coast and Yacht Club neighborhoods. The city of Fort Myers experienced a record storm surge of 7.26 feet while a portion of the roadway leading to the Matlacha bridge washed away with the funky art community and St. James City suffering devastating damage to their homes and businesses.
There were 144 confirmed deaths in Florida, including 67 in Lee County, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission report released Dec. 9.
Property damage estimates, which are still being tallied, are collectively in the billions.
In Lee County alone, Hurricane Ian damaged 50,313 homes, destroying 5,076 of them with another 13,532 suffering major damage.
FEMA reports there have been 27,303 Lee County claims filed under the National Flood Insurance Program with $1.15 billion paid out for the 14,329 closed thus far.
Statewide, the number of property claims has hit nearly 1.13 million — 102,319 of them in Lee County — with 955,852 classified as residential.
Based on claims thus far, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has estimated these insured losses total nearly $20.67 billion.
Some are predicting that the total tally could be 10 times that when all is said and done.
According to the AccuWeather website, AccuWeather founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers predicts total Hurricane Ian damage tallies will come in between $180 billion and $210 billion.
Taken in the context of total losses, including damage to infrastructure such as the Sanibel Causeway, public buildings and facilities and Florida’s power grid, the numbers strike home.
Very close to home.
The city of Cape Coral estimates its damages at $86 million.
The School District of Lee County puts its tally as high as $273 million.
Lee County numbers are still being computed.
NOAA’s Hurricane Ian Special Summary summed up the impact of Ian’s direct hit here succinctly:
“…According to state authorities, Lee and Charlotte counties were essentially ‘off the grid’ and would likely require a rebuild of the infrastructure to bring the systems back to full capacity. Significant parts of many coastal communities, including those along the barrier islands of Captiva, Sanibel, Pine (Island) and Fort Myers Beach, were washed away by the winds and surge. The Sanibel Island causeway, which provides the only roadway access to the island, was partially washed away, limiting access to the island by air and boat. Similarly, the sole bridge connecting Pine Island to the mainland was destroyed during the storm and residents of the island can only access the island by air and boat.”
And yet… and yet… here we are just three months after one of our county’s worst natural disasters ever with recovery under way.
A startling amount of recovery that can only progress.
When we recap the process this time next year will we, as longtime Lee Countians, be happy with all of the “build back better” changes to come in 2023 and beyond?
We expect we’ll miss the “old” locals look of Fort Myers Beach; kitschy, arty “old” Matlacha; and even, yes, the neighborhood park aspect of the historic Cape Coral Yacht Club.
But likely laments aside from we old-timers and Cape pioneers, change, per se, is not bad.
And building back — even “building back better” — can only be a good thing.
To 2023 and beyond.
We wish you a very happy New Year.
And we wish that we, as a community, remain as strong, as resilient, as hopeful as we are today.
— Breeze editorial