Hurricane Ian Recovery Update

Posted originally on the conservative tree house on October 24, 2022 | Sundance 

I’ve been sharing some of the challenges with site admins; at their suggestion here’s the latest from the impact zone.

First things first.  To establish the context, what made Ian completely different from all other hurricane recovery responses I have been involved in comes down to two issues: strength of the storm (155+ mph winds), and more importantly the duration of the event (8+ hours of peak destruction).

In normal hurricane impacts the worst affected areas generally experience 3 to 4 hours of chaos.  Hurricane Ian was unique in that it was only moving 8 to 10 mph and that made the storm damage completely different.  Structures that survived the first half, completely failed during the second half of the storm.

Almost nothing survived unscathed after 8 to 9 hours of that strength of storm sitting, almost stationary, in one place; nor was anything ever designed to withstand that duration of storm with winds from the South, then East, then West as Ian meandered inland from the gulf toward the north northeast.

After this storm, and having been through four previous direct impacts, including Homestead AFB, I would say this….  If there is even a remote chance you would ever encounter this type of a hurricane event, EVACUATE.  Do not try and hunker down if there is a looming possibility of having to rely on a structure to withstand 150+ mph wind for a full day.  Just leave.  With all of my preparations in place, and all of the knowledge I possess in storm survival, I would never attempt that again.

That said, I will put a better word image together at a later date to share, along with specific recommendations learned as an outcome of this event.  In the interim, just accept my most strenuous advice. If this specific type of storm was ever predicted to come near you, GET OUT.

♦CURRENT STATUS – Electricity and water restoration efforts continue as we near the one-month anniversary 10/28.  Thankfully, both services have been restored for me personally, and I carry deep empathy -and my most sincere prayers- for those still waiting.

Regarding stable -if any- internet service, it remains elusive for everyone.

The biggest impacts upon the outer islands of Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island/Matlacha are still in first stage recovery efforts. Completely new civil infrastructure is being built in these areas.

♦DEBRIS – The scale of physical debris is jaw dropping.  FEMA reimburses local municipalities for the first 30 days of debris removal effort and costs.  The 30-day limit is intended as a financial incentive to kick municipalities into fast action.  This incentive is not a bad concept.  Factually, it’s one of the better FEMA legislative standards because it forces local government to act quickly.  However, the scale of what they are trying to do is just intense.

The various municipal governments in the severe impact zones appear to have a strategy to use the 30-day window to just collect as much as possible in interim geographic locations.  Large empty lots are being utilized as fast dumps for massive piles of debris in this 30-day window.  A claw truck can make a dozen fast runs (per day) locally to these interim dump sites, as opposed to driving long distances to landfills 30 to 50 miles away.

One of these 10-acre dump sites is less than a mile from me.  I do not know how many of these exist; however, to see a full ten acres piled high with 10 to 20′ of debris gives me a sense of the scale of damage in this one small area within a region that must have hundreds of these interim sites.  I have been to a dozen post-hurricane recovery areas and never seen debris like this.

Everything from destroyed construction material, to home furnishings, beds, appliances, parts of boats, roof parts, toys, patio furniture, pieces of cars, clothing, you name it, it’s all there.  All now defined under the term “debris.” However, each piece of debris representing the former life of a family impacted by this storm.  The trucks just keep coming, day and night 24/7.

In the bigger picture, when you think about what is represented, it’s a sullen site to bear witness to… Any person of reasonable Christian disposition would just cry.  They have fenced off these interim dumping sites, and they have erected lights and temporary crane towers to seemingly assist the logistics of what goes where, but my God the scale of it is humbling.  This is just one site utilized for an area of what seems to be approximately 5 square miles.  Expand that scale to hundreds of similar 10-acre sites. Yeah, tears.

Eventually I assume these interim sites will be cleared one truckload at a time to the inner state landfills and recycle facilities. That phase will likely take years.

~ An ordinary neighborhood street awaiting pickup ~

♦PEOPLE – Thousands of people have been displaced. To give a context for the longer-term issue let me tell you a few stories.

In the past several weeks I have visited a number of businesses like Home Depot (hardware etc) and industrial repair shops.  These places are packed with working-class people attempting to patch life back together.  My best guess is you could put between 10,000 and 50,000 skilled construction workers and general laborers into the impact zone, and they would have continuous work for a year or more.

That said, businesses are failing because just as many people have given up and quit as the number that are trying to rebuild.

Most of the service workers involved in the hotel, restaurant and tourist industry on/near the SWFL beaches are out of work. The physical buildings are gone or heavily damaged and closed. Those ordinarily invisible workers are just picking up what may have remained and leaving; because they have no work, and everyone needs a paycheck.  Consider this vulnerable population #1.

Additionally, thousands of people who work regular jobs, including retail and hospitality, have been wiped out or heavily impacted at a personal level.  Whether it be due to direct loss of their homes, housing rentals, vehicles or belongings, or just stress amid the rubble, they too are leaving.  Without those workers businesses are unable to operate and are modifying operations or folding completely.

This subsequent worker shortage puts more pressure on the small to medium businesses and employees that remain….. In turn that creates longer shifts and even more stress on the remaining employees. The result is a cascading impact upon every business from supermarkets to McDonalds, to convenience stores, to garages and mechanics, to just about everything including hospitals and elder care facilities.

SELF SUFFICIENCY – If you cannot fix it yourself, life is even more difficult.

An odd aspect I note is the destruction on garages, light industrial facilities and auto repair shops.  Numerous places are closed for repairs as the exterior big garage bay doors (doors on the physical buildings of these places) failed, creating damage internally to the facility and equipment.  If you need a vehicle lift or specialized light to medium industrial equipment repair, you have to travel inland, quite a considerable distance, looking for an open location.

Open hotels for 50+ miles are full of relief and recovery workers and still hundreds more rooms or temporary housing are/is needed for those who travelled to help.  I talked with one six-man recovery crew who are housed at a hotel in Tampa and drive to Pine Island.  That’s a minimum 4 to 5-hour round trip.  Drive 2 hours, work 10, drive 2 hours back, eat/sleep, repeat.

Out of state recovery crews (for just about anything you can imagine) are generally doing two to four-week stints, then they are replaced -take a week off- then return.  SWFL locals take every opportunity to thank them, but no one knows how long this level of assistance will remain available.

It sounds like I’m painting a pretty bleak picture, but that’s the reality of recovery life in an impact zone like this.  It’s also why I don’t like writing about it.  However, amid all of the stress and chaos there are incredible people who will give the shirt off their back to a stranger.   Focusing on this aspect is what fuels the soul daily.

Exiting a 7-11 I ran into Dionne, his wife and 3 kids, including a 6-month-old.

Dionne originally from Indiana, like a bazillion other working-class folks, had a flat tire (roofing nail) and was desperate to get to WalMart for baby formula and diapers.  As he explained the situation, I gave him my keys and said, “just go, I’ve got the tire.”  By the time he came back both problems were solved.  Dionne had the stuff for the baby, and a bunch of strangers – who were also just passersby overhearing the problem – stopped everything, chipped in and the tire was repaired and replaced.

Hurricane Ian certainly brought a mess, but the storm also brought buckets of ordinary opportunities to meet random strangers – reminding us constantly at our spiritual core there are overwhelming numbers of fundamentally good people that non-crisis life would have us miss.

I am intensely thankful for those moments a loving God is providing.  Without Ian those moments may not exist, and each of them is an opportunity for an affirmation.

Now, to be sure, there are self-centered affluent knuckleheads in post hurricane life; but I can also tell you something with a spiritual certainty…

…..Those knuckleheads don’t shop at 7-11’s near me.

Love to all,

~ Sundance

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