Communities coming together to clean up after an EF2 tornado rips through Iona

Published: January 17, 2022 2:33 PM EST
Updated: January 17, 2022 10:01 PM EST

After seeing the most extensive damage in Southwest Florida after Sunday’s storm, the community in Iona is taking the first steps toward recovery. The tornado that touched down there was confirmed to be an EF2, the strongest in six years.

Home after home, roof after roof, were damaged or destroyed by the 118 mile-per-jour winds that spun from the tornado.

Lee Anderson and his family, who live in the Century 21 Mobile Home Park, are okay, but their home is not. “That’s the top of our lanai hang in the tree.”

For most people, the focus of the day after is the clean-up. Anderson is still trying to make sense of what happened Sunday morning.

“If it wasn’t for my daughter, we wouldn’t be here. We got in the middle of the house and hugged and prayed, and it was gone in seconds. But glass all over coverage blown off. An experience I don’t want to experience again. It only lasted seconds but glass was all over it, and where my granddaughter was sleeping there glass all over it. If she was there, it was awful,” said Anderson, who got emotional speaking about how close of a call it was for his family.

Sunday was awful for many families, but Monday is hopeful. Anderson said, “unbelievable that we’re alive. And the people are just phenomenal.”

People like Doug McGregor, “I met him about ten minutes ago.”

McGregor watched as the powerful winds spared his home nearby, so he decided to lend a hand to those not as fortunate. “Watched it come right through. The twirl, the sheet metal, the roofs flying through the air.”

“We gotta do what we gotta do. Gotta help neighbors. It’s better than sitting around in the dark doing nothing when you can help a fellow man. Get their house cleaned up and hopefully get them back to their life,” said McGregor.

Ignatius Lobianco and his girlfriend felt they’d hit the jackpot. A mobile home near the beach that was fully furnished in a friendly neighborhood.

Then Sunday’s tornado hit, taking most of their master bedroom with it.

“It happened really quick. And like 20 seconds, it seems. I don’t know what to say we’re just lucky that we are alive. It’s crazy. It’s just crazy. It’s a crazy thing,” said Lobianco.

Now they are attempting to sort through the damage

Lobianco said, “it’s hard to process everything you’re trying to look at everything you see it and you don’t know, you kind of don’t know where to start.”

He won’t start with a call to his insurance company because he doesn’t have insurance. He said an inspector came out on Wednesday to begin the process. “So we’re just without, you know, complete loss. But that’s the way it is. But we’ll survive.”

Looking around, lucky isn’t the first word that comes to mind, but that’s how Lobianco describes himself because he has got his neighbors on his side.

Lobianco said, “I’m an old man. I can’t do this stuff. You know, it wears you out. It’s overwhelming and makes me want to cry. You know? It really is.”

His home may be broken, but his spirit isn’t thanks to neighbors and strangers.

Lobianco is grateful to be alive, but said he’s also grateful for the little things like his favorite TV chair being left untouched.

The people impacted by the tornado have a lot of work ahead of them so for now, the little things are what keep them going.

Chris Hicks walked WINK News through her home The wind was moving the tarp that covers the hole where the roof used to be. Right next door Michelle Carnot was visiting her mother. She traded the snow in Philadelphia for a tornado in Iona.

Carnot remembers wondering, “Is my mom okay? Her bedroom is right across the hallways so I said mom are you okay she said what happened? I said I think it was a tornado.”

Amid all this destruction was peace.

“There was a woman that came by from some aid organization and gave us some gloves so we could start going through the stuff,” said Carnot.

That woman was Vickie Michaud. She was visiting her mom at the time, but as fate would have it she is also the founder of Hope Builders a non-profit that helps people rebuild after a disaster.

The story is similar for those living on Windcrest Drive in Iona.

WINK News found Julie Keating sitting on the ground on a front lawn having a cup of coffee.

Keating’s brother lives on Windcrest Drive. “Oh god. Oh god. That’s what I was thinking,” said Keating.

Her view on the ground is almost as devastating as the scene above that shows just how devastating the tornado was for those in its path.

Drone image of the damage on Windcrest Drive. (Credit: WINK News)

Keating said, “here we are in a neighborhood with so many people who don’t have insurance, who couldn’t afford insurance, live off of their monthly social security, and don’t have the means to pay people to come and fix all of this.”

One of those who couldn’t insure his home is Keating’s brother, most of his roof is now gone.

“Hurricanes, yes, you can plan for those. This is unplannable and unfathomable what it does to one’s life in five minutes,” said Keating.

Even though the living room and Keating were covered in debris, she said, “we all joke about it because every time a storm comes, it’s like oh yeah, we’re in the vortex, it’s not going to hit us. And oh man, proved me wrong this time.”

She said she is also covered in gratitude and is as optimistic as ever. “I’m sure it’ll all come together one day, you know? But it’ll take a while.”