Well, well ….

Apologies for an earlier post with this title. I had some glitches with my website and computer and the title published prematurely.

OK, so it happened. Everything everyone warned us about moving to Florida came to fruition at the end of September when Hurricane Ian, a storm of epic proportions, came roaring up the Caloosahatchee River perfectly aimed to deliver a storm surge with its Category Five winds.

We live far up the Caloosahatchee in a community of canals connected to the river (see map at right). Neighbors who have been here for 30 years through multiple hurricanes have never seen water levels threaten their property. Ian’s winds created a fifteen-foot surge that was focused on the river channel.

We prepared. Michelle came home early on Tuesday and moved the lanai plants to the garage. By the time I came home from work, she had already emptied the lanai of plants and secured the furniture from wind by moving them to the garage or against the house and locked to the ground with the weighted base pieces of the patio umbrella. We had supplies and a generator. I lashed the boat securely to the lift, and the lift to the pilings. We went to bed Tuesday believing we’d be OK.

Wednesday September 28th, we watched in awe as the hurricane approached. Every projection got worse. The storm veered into the Caloosahatchee channel. Miles upriver from the Gulf, the water kept rising. We watched the canal rise behind the house and kept thinking, “It doesn’t look too bad yet.”

Within 30 minutes, the water took over. It rose to the level of our pool deck, swarmed over the edge with its muddy brown/brackish water, and entered the pool. We improvised: created sandbags from pillowcases and cat litter to block the patio doors. We placed our mattress on five 30-inch-tall metal plantstands to create a safe island in the master suite for cats, dog, and us. Six inches to go and it kept rising.


Then, suddenly, we realized that we were facing the wrong direction! Water began coming in from the canal across the street. Larger and deeper than ours, that canal had overflown and was surging into the front of our house. We had lost the battle. Had to go into survival mode. Thank God for Michelle and her quick thinking. Within five minutes she had improvised a plan for us all to go into the attic (only accessible through the garage) to get above the water.

The big problem was that the garage sits 18 inches lower than the house. Every time we opened the door from the house to the garage we were met with a wave of water since the garage was filling up to a level higher than the house. It took about 16 trips to get three cats, supplies, emergency radio, us, and a dog up into a 6×12 foot space (BTW, if you ever want an exercise in craziness, try getting a 100lb Dobermann Pinscher up a ladder where he does not wish to go). During those trips, we waded through knee-high to waist-deep water, dodging floating debris that included our possessions and valuables. We watched as the water flowed into our vehicles, causing their electrical systems to go berserk and then shut down. We dodged floating propane tanks, 5-gallon gas containers, and bifold closet doors that floated off their hinges. We sat in the attic all night, with the wind howling rain thundering against the roof, listening to emergency radio reports.

By about 4:00am the worst had passed. I had kept looking down the ladder into the garage, marking the height of the water and noticed that it seemed to be decreasing. By 5:00am, it was no longer over the headlights of my beloved Miata. By 6:00am it had dropped enough that I wanted to assess what was below. Against Michelle’s wishes, I climbed down the ladder.

Chaos. 12-15 inches of floodwater in the house and 24-30 inches in the garage. For four hours our entire neighborhood became one big lake – all those canals simply joined together. We have neighbors who have lived here for over 25 years, through multiple hurricanes. They’ve never seen water levels threaten their property. This storm was different. Its winds created a fifteen-foot surge that was exacerbated by the wind-driven waves.

We lost three autos, all appliances, and all furniture that was touched by flood waters. The water soaked into the walls of the house, which means that it would have to be torn out and replaced. The doors were disintegrating from the water infusion. The floors were covered in brown muck. The good news? My boat was untouched. Of course, leaves and junk were blown into it, but other boats on the block were blown off their lifts, stranded in backyards across the canals, and their lifts were twisted like pretzels. My boat sat there untouched. All praise and thanks to Michelle’s dad, Tom Regan. His emergency response mechanisms went into overdrive. In South Dakota, he procured a new 29-foot camper and Ford F150 crew cabin (tow package) pickup truck; loaded it and his own crew-cab pickup with things like water, shop vac, cleaning supplies, extra gasoline; recruited Michelle’s brother-in-law Jeremiah (who took unpaid time off work) and her uncle Chuck – and they all drove from Rapid City, South Dakota to Fort Myers, Florida to back this camper into our driveway and leave us with a working vehicle and needed supplies. We’re not wealthy in things, but we are certainly wealthy in people. After such an event, many question whether living here is worth it. One of the benefits of working at Total Wine is that I talk to people from around this area about living (or visiting) here. Michelle and I, of course, had the same conversation that many couples had after such a catastrophic event about whether we wanted to stay here.

In response, I have one observation and one question: “We’ve had five wonderful years and one REALLY bad day.” and “Where would we move to?” The photo in the left was taken about a week before IAN showed up.  I’ve spoken to at least three customers who lost their homes in Hurricane Ian. Some are rebuilding, some are not. One, who is not, has leukemia and is 82; but his philosophy was similar: “We had 28 years of gorgeous sunsets and sunrises living on the beach. I would not trade that despite this storm.” He was buying wine to give as gifts to friends who were allowing him and his wife stay in their condominium. Another couple lost the first floor of their beach home, a brand new 36-foot boat, and were also condo-surfing. They bought about $1500 of wine. His comment: “I have a new appreciation for enjoying today, rather than waiting for tomorrow.”

We’re struggling financially and realize we have not been very responsive lately, but our daily routine is putting out wildfires: dealing with insurance companies, contractors, bankers, etc. It’s all a juggling act with the money. Insurance companies never lose money and always make it difficult to receive that for which you have been paying premiums. Friday I (finally) received a long-awaited advance from the flood insurance folks. Two checks, one for contents ($10000) and a second for structure ($15000). The problem was that the second was made out to me AND the mortgage company, meaning I could not deposit it without their signature. Thank God, the mortgage company is on this and had set up a local office where one can go to get the check validated and another online site where future checks can be validated. But I had to drive north for an hour to Punta Gorda to get the check signed and by then the bank was closed (Veterans Day). OK, so I drove to the bank today to deposit it, only to be told by the bank that they’ll have to hold it for seven days before I can access the money because they have to make certain it clears.


Meanwhile I have contractors waiting to be paid so they can put my house back together.

Bottom line? We’ve cashed in $200,000 of my retirement to pay back Tom and get the house renovations moving. We’re trying to build back better (thanks, Joe). If all the cash juggling works out, maybe we’ll be able to put most of the retirement back in before it counts as income.

Now that the election is over, maybe congress will pass a bill that allows one in a declared disaster area to take retirement money out to rebuild without a tax hit. That certainly wasn’t going to happen pre-election because you know the winners want to take credit for it.

We have about $17,750 of deductibles to eat

Hurricane Ian arrived on September 29th. As I write this on the evening of November 15th, it seems like it just happened. Yes, things have changed since then. The debris piles on our street have diminished (although not gone completely). Our house; ahead of most in the neighborhood; has been stripped down to studs, bio-washed, had new drywall installed, textured, primed, and painted. Next is hardwood baseboards and doors. I’ve scheduled tile and grout cleaning for November 25th. The kitchen/bath/laundry cabinets and countertops will be installed the following week. We have every intention of being back into our home before December 7th.

So, what about Hurricane Nicole? Wind and rain here. I’m certain Nicole impacted other parts of Florida like Ian did us. Mind you, since we’re sleeping in a camper in our driveway, I did ask some camper-savvy neighbors if we needed to worry about 40 mph winds and they scoffed it off, so……

Will we come out smelling like roses? Unlikely. But we’ll do what Michelle and I have always done – create something out of nothing. When I arrived at SDSMT in 1983 the music program at SDSMT consisted of one room with a piano and three extracurricular ensembles. When I left there was a music building, curricular music offerings including four vocal ensembles, orchestra, band, brass choir, jazz band, pep band, and two fulltime and one parttime music instructors and a secretary. Before Michelle there was no music studio in South Dakota like what she created with Musikhaus – fifty award-winning students – some of them now achieving things like Broadway shows and one the reigning Miss South Dakota.

We do appreciate those who checked in on us to see how we were doing. Michelle and I observed our 21st anniversary on November 3rd in the midst of this recovery.

Michelle continues to work extra hours to gain time off, so she can fly to South Dakota to visit her family. She is an amazing individual whose standards never waver.

October 31st  I took my last examination for the Total Wine Professional certification. I scored 94%. I am now only the 2nd individual in the Fort Myers store (and one of few in all southwest Florida) to have achieved this milestone. The district manager visited the store last week and made a point of coming to congratulate me.

We’re OK. Struggling and cautious, but OK. We hope to be back in our house by Christmas. Hope all is well with all of you.

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