Fort Myers residents held on to furniture to avoid drowning during Hurricane Ian and returned to crumbling homes once the storm passed

Sunshine Mobile Village was hit hard by Hurricane Ian.Kimberly Leonard/Insider

  • A resident clung to a sofa as the water receded and his head pressed against the ceiling.

  • Another resident slipped into her home after the storm, but volunteers helped her.

  • The neighbors came out to help each other.

FORT MYERS, Florida Sunshine Mobile Village was the type of close-knit community where people frequently checked in on each other.

And according to locals, it was a nice place to live. There is a golf course behind the neighborhood, outlet shopping nearby, and Fort Myers beach a few miles away.

“Everyone knows everyone and worries about everyone,” resident Carol Varney, who moved into the 55-plus community just a year ago, told Insider.

Then Hurricane Ian hit, with 155mph winds ripping through homes, knocking massive trees down by their roots and dumping a 10ft surge of water into the community. It covered the insides of homes in mud and a faint smell of sewage lingered in the air on Friday.

The storm continues – it has inundated central Florida and is now heading towards South Carolina. Much of Southwest Florida was affected, including Naples and Cape Coral. By Friday afternoon, the water in many neighborhoods was too contaminated to drink and stores were trying to operate without electricity. Sunshine Village appeared to be one of the hardest hit communities in the area.

Few people were there on Friday, but those who checked in on each other, stopped on the side of the road to make sure everyone had a place to go or a ride if they needed it .

Many were relieved that they and their loved ones were alive. Sunset Village president Vickie Kolodzik told Insider that her husband nearly drowned in the storm. He had stayed to help others, she said, and to take care of his tropical birds – they weren’t sure anyone wanted to take them.

On Wednesday evening, Kolodzik said, the water rose around her husband and he clung to a couch as his head banged against the ceiling. Kolodzik herself was in a house five feet off the ground – but even then there was still flooding – and a fire broke out. She could not reach her husband.

“I thought he was dead,” she said.

But after several hours the water started to recede and he came out, she said. He had put the birds on a mattress that floated as the water rose, and all of them survived.

Nearly 190 houses in the same neighborhood in ruins

Ray Remillard, 62, told Insider his Sunset Village home was “destroyed”, describing the scene as a “total loss”. There are nearly 190 houses in the neighborhood, and almost all of them may be in ruins.

The community had gathered before the storm. Remillard picked up Varney and other residents just in time and took them to his company’s condo near the airport.

On Friday, Varney attempted to enter her home to take some clothes with her, but she slipped in the mud and her leg started bleeding.

Luckily, she said, volunteers from Miami had just arrived on the scene and bandaged her leg. They distributed bottles of water to people who had come to visit their house, people who hoped to collect some belongings or change their clothes.

About 30% to 40% of residents who live in Sunshine Village live here full-time, while the rest are snowbirds who were far from the storm when it hit, Remillard said.

For now, he said, residents would wait elsewhere until the water drained. Some neighbors said it had been several feet higher on Thursday, but now at least residents could take the main road and get closer to their homes. On Friday, the water was knee-high in many parts of the neighborhood.

Rémillard saw that Varney’s leg was injured and entered her home to gather things for her – managing to retrieve a laptop – and open her windows.

The community has not been able to check the news because they have been without electricity, which means there is no television or internet. They haven’t heard that Florida’s death toll from Hurricane Ian has risen to at least 21, according to state officials.

Varney said she recently told a friend on the phone that living her life in Fort Myers was the happiest she had ever been. Even now, she said, she wouldn’t change a thing and was looking forward to moving into a new house and buying new furniture. Before that, she lived on a farm in Vermont.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “But we’re alive. I’m ready to start over.”

Read the original Insider article

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