Two steps forward, one step back
Happy New Year! And hoping that that this year will be MUCH better than 2022. So far, it has been two steps forward, one step back. Our journey to normalcy continues. At this writing, new countertops are installed, and we have sinks, appliances, and laundry facilities again. Imagine that – the luxury of sleeping, cooking, and doing laundry at home!
Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28 as a Category 4 hurricane on Cayo Costa Island – exactly 30 miles due west of our home. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935, causing 146 fatalities and damage estimated to be over $50 billion, much of it from a 10–16 ft. storm surge. Said surge was mostly south of where Ian made landfall – directly up the Caloosahatchee River, where we live. Perfectly situated for this storm, Lee County experienced damage to 52,514 buildings. The Sanibel Island causeway collapsed, cutting off vehicle access to Sanibel. The Matlacha Bridge, connecting Pine Island to the mainland, was washed out. Throughout Lee County strong winds resulted in a widespread downing of electrical poles, trees and tree limbs, road signs, and traffic signals. Cell service, electrical service, and water service were all destroyed. Falling debris blocked many roadways.
After re-emerging from our attic refuge, Michelle and I had 1) no electricity, 2) a boil water notice, 3) no cell service, and 4) no internet service. I thought it might be enlightening to show a timeline with photos of the entire IAN experience.
September 28, 2022
Ian moved onto shore, well away from our location miles up the river, the rainfall and winds began to make an impact. This view from our lanai is of the neighbor’s fence being blown down.
The rain was unrelenting as was the wind, but nothing overtly frightening was happening yet.
In a matter of minutes. Ian pushed a wall of water up the river condensing it into an increasingly tall wave as the river narrowed upstream where we live in a community of canals just off the river channel (home is the blue dot). Our entire area became one big lake. The water soon breached our lanai and we went into emergency mode, putting everything possible up to higher ground.
When the water began to come through the wall in our master bathroom from the garage, we knew that we had serious problems. The wind and rain were bad enough but the rising water was making it impossible to remain in the house. So, Michelle improvised a plan to move everyone (including three cats and a huge Doberman up into the attic. Such an action has dangers as well, because if the water reaches that level, then there is nowhere to go. And, of course, if the roof blows off, you’re also dead. But we did it anyway. Next time (assuming there is one), we evacuate. We spent a tense night there, listening to the wind howl, rain pound, and hearing reports on the emergency radio
September 29-30, 2022
The water began to drop at about 4:00am, having risen to about 27 inches inside the garage – enough to total the electrical systems of both the Miata and Mini and destroy tools, supplies, generator, and many other essentials.
Outside the garage door it had gotten even higher, about 40 inches – enough to total our Ford Fusion and dent the garage door by the force of the water against it
Inside the house the water level was lower, but even one inch is enough to ruin drywall. We emerged into a home filled with mucky residue and most all furnishings were ruined. Looking at some of these photos, the water level line is visible on the wall.
Drywall was soaked, appliances were toast, pool was muddy, pool pump was dead, and some pool cage screens were torn off. We were lucky. Many neighbors lost their entire pool cages – their estimated replacement date is sometime around July 2023…..
Our lanai pavers had been lifted off their base by the hurricane winds pushing against the pool screen.
Compared to others, we had very little roof damage. Our solar panels sailed through the storm magnificently. A few shingles that were not covered by the solar panels lifted but did come off. The amount of water flooding against the front of the house stripped stucco off the house, pushed a hedge apart, blew over a hibiscus, four lime trees, and three other trees. Our boat – which I had lashed to the lift and then the lift to the pilings – never moved, unlike most of our neighbors’ boats which ended up in yards, on shore, and in one spectacular instance, washed down the street taking out many mailboxes and shrubs along the way.
October 1-15 – Clean-up and Recovery
Everyone was in shock. But no one could remain there long because things had to happen if we were to recover. We had to quickly decide what was salvageable and what had to go. Almost everything had been swamped by river/sewer water and had to be thrown out. The pool was flooded with that same water, and our walls were now infested as well.
Luckily, we have excellent resources/contacts. Our pool screen guy had our screen repaired within one day. A day later, the pool had been drained, acid washed, and re-filled. A few days later we had a new pool pump installed.
Our original realtor [shout-out to Stacey Bohannen] was invaluable in connecting us with QSP Build to begin our demolition and reconstruction. Demo and bio-wash were costly and terrible to watch. We saw our home stripped down to bones, dried out, and rebuilt.
The demo pile outside the house kept getting bigger and bigger (killing the lawn in the process). Even through that, some of us managed to keep our sense of humor.
Meanwhile we bought a camper and Ford F-150 pickup truck through Michelle’s relatives in South Dakota and paid for them to drive it down to Florida so we had a place to sleep and a vehicle to drive while we dealt with the reconstruction. Kudos to Michelle’s parents, uncle, and brother-in-law, who sacrificed their time and energy to help us with this.
Of course, we screwed ourselves in the process. FEMA provides housing to those who need it. We withdrew funds from retirement to pay for the camper, pickup, expenses for relatives here and back, and additional supplies. FEMA evidently considers that if we have the resources to do that, we do not need assistance. Meanwhile, neighbors all around us held out and received as much as $45,000 in FEMA housing assistance <sigh>. So much for being pro-active. Anyway, now that we’re back in the house, we’re recouping some of our losses by selling the truck and placing the camper on a consignment lot. It was a strange, sad feeling to move forward with these sales. The truck and camper were our safety and security after losing so much. We’re thankful to have had them.
November 2022/now – Recovery
We had to rebuild. It wasn’t an option. As with every challenge Michelle and I have faced, we met it head on and decided to upgrade what we could within the parameters of what the insurance would cover. We would have liked to pull up all the tile floors and replace them. The adjustor, who was forthright and open, told us that the insurance company would not pay for that, nor would they pay for replacing granite countertops – unless they were broken during the demolition, which some were.
There were always things about our kitchen we did not like. Michelle’s creativity came to the fore. She designed a kitchen that works far better than what we had. Where a microwave was hung over the cooktop, now there is a hood that vents to the outside (no more setting off fire alarms!), a microwave drawer (really expensive), and beautiful, sleek countertops and cabinetry. The countertop is far more user-friendly and the overall look is very modern European. Below see the former and current versions.
We celebrated Christmas Eve by moving back into the house – with one working sink, one working toilet, no kitchen appliances, and no living room furniture. The weather was really cold during this time – 40 degrees! – so we were glad we were out of the camper and back in the house.
As of this writing:
- Our kitchen is complete and functional.
- Michelle’s tub in the master bathroom is useable but my walk-in shower needs to be re-grouted and broken tile needs to be repaired.
- We still have no interior doors. We have baseboards but no doors or doorframes. There will be much touching up to make this place OK.
- We await final flood insurance payments currently in the hands of the mortgage company, which has been dragging its feet to release the funds. After getting feisty with them yesterday on the phone, I believe I may have resolved the Gordian knot of paperwork.
- We’ve sold the truck and are selling the boat and camper to offset the retirement losses.
- There are many items that still need to be fixed but we await the insurance settlement to address those: exterior stucco sealing/painting, landscape repair (resodding, replanting), garage repairs (door, cabinetry, storage).
One reads about disaster areas taking years to recover. That is reality. The sound of circular saws and hammers is prevalent throughout our neighborhood every day. We had our last piles of rubbish on the sides of the street picked up on January 31st). And our neighborhood is hardly the worst in Fort Myers.
Items unrelated to Hurricane IAN
In the first week of January, Michelle and I took leaves of absence from work so that we could move back into the house. It was a great opportunity to reorganize and regroup. Except that I began to feel unwell about two days into that week. After two days of feeling poorly, I took a Covid test. Positive. That triggered a ten-day leave of absence from work. Of course, by the time I took the test, I had begun feeling better. Doesn’t matter. Rules are rules. Meanwhile Michelle and I were selling things from the house that we no longer needed – range/oven, microwave, utility sink. In the process of getting the range into a buyer’s pickup, I fractured my left middle finger. I left it for a week hoping it would get better, but finally had it x-rayed. Yep. Broke the upper joint. Sheesh. So, Covid and now this. Splint it and go back to work.
I spent the enforced Covid time off studying for the Total Wine Spirits Professional exam. On January 17th, I took the TSP exam and passed. I have now achieved the highest level possible in both wine and spirits in the store. There is only one other person who has done that in southwest Florida and he, the store wine manager, remains my mentor. None of the spirits team – manager, supervisor, team members – have passed this exam. So, the store had to order me new shirts with the new logo. I am quick to state that although I know spirits, I cannot find that stuff on the shelf or talk about it like the spirits guys can. So, there is that.
One of the first friends I made in college at Mount Union was Robert Colaner. Bob has had a successful career by any set of standards. He worked for years in parochial schools and became quite adept at arranging well-known choral pieces for the changing male voice. He came to Fort Myers for a week on vacation and reached out to me so that we could spend a few hours together. We had lunch at a restaurant on the river catching up on old times.
So glad we did.
- We still love Florida, cannot envision living elsewhere, but are feeling rather unsettled and probably will for another few months.
- We’re making it work until the insurance money shows up or we get all our vehicles sold.
- Michelle is amazing and excels at her job but is overworked and exhausted much of the time – supervising ten masters-level clinicians and responsible for over 400 adult male formerly-incarcerated residents. She is working to balance her work and life, especially since this hurricane made us realize what is really important to us.
- I am good at a part-time job which has little impact on our real life, but am having fun at it.
We are working to get back to who we are and why we came here. Stay tuned. As always, we are here if you wish to contact us. We welcome your calls, emails, and visits.