All across Southwest Florida, people are showing what it means to be Gulfshore Strong and vowing to rebuild what Hurricane Ian destroyed.
One of the places hit especially hard by the story was Fort Myers Beach. Deputies guard the entrance to make sure no one enters after the curfew, which runs from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.
WINK News was on the beach on Saturday, joined by Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy and others for a tour of some of the recovery areas.
Stops on the tour included a FEMA relief site at Beach Baptist Church and the Fort Myers Fire Department, which was flooded during the hurricane.
WINK News also visited the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, where all of the debris from destroyed homes is being taken to before being taken off the island.
Robert Akeson was back on Fort Myers Beach for the first time since Hurricane Ian on Saturday. He is a seasonal resident here.
“Coming over to Fort Myers Beach, you could see it was almost as if it was black, and then it was white, or it was white, then it was black. In other words, the landscape changed dramatically. If you go five minutes on the other side of the bridge, it looks like, yes, we had a storm, but it doesn’t look like total devastation. It does look like total devastation as you approach the bridge. And as you come over onto the island itself, no question about it’s it’s horrible. It’s true devastation,” said Akeson.
Lori Dupuie was also visiting the beach for the first time since the storm on Saturday. “Now, to come here, and you guys caught me here having my little memorial for myself. I’m devastated. I’ve been down here for 30 years. And this has been my home for nine.”
Dupuie stayed on the island during the hurricane. “We really didn’t know we went through the survival part of watching it happen and being part of it. And it was terrifying. But we didn’t know this. I mean, it just can’t explain this. I mean, there’s just no words to describe it. So, you know, I started getting snapshots from my, from my daughter who’s in Chicago, showing me the devastation.”
Despite the devastation, Dupuie has a place to stay during this rebuilding process.
“I found an apartment complex, and I just begged her I said can you just let me put my computers from our work office in there and my jewelry, you know, my social security card just, I didn’t have anywhere to put anything, so that was really vulnerable. But it’s not my story. My story is a one-bedroom apartment in a car, I can handle that. I feel sorry for everybody that lost their foundation, their home with 35 years, 40 years, everything you know, that just crushes my heart,” said Dupuie.
Fort Myers Beach’s mayor is optimistic about the community’s future.
“The beach is coming back. I mean, there’s, and we’re going to try to retain the same character that we had before. You know, we don’t want a big community, we don’t want the big buildings, we don’t want the big. We want the same sort of feeling that we had before. Except better,” said Murphy.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office says if people would like to get into Fort Myers Beach outside of curfew, they will need to bring something that can prove they live there.