The Specter of Hurricane IAN
Like most of America, we watched the formation and development of Hurricane Ian, as it drove relentlessly across the Caribbean. It hammered western Cuba with category three winds and waves. It was then that we knew Florida was in for it.
The Florida straits, between Cuba and Southern Florida, are warm water fuel for hurricanes. They pick up energy and wind speed from the warm waters. Ian grew into a category five monster as it approached the mainland. Original meteorological projections had it making landfall on the western shore of Florida, somewhere in the area of Tampa Bay.
The wide shallow waters of Tampa Bay shield a large urban population. The prognosis for disaster was large. But, like most of these storms, Ian had a mind of its own. Jet stream winds push them in different directions, like a whirling dervish.
We were watching all of this mayhem from the safety of our home in Western New York. Normally, we would have been sitting in our Florida condo, cowering at the noise and fury of the arriving storm. Fate had delayed our departure from Western New York for an extra week. Knowing what damage would result left us saddened, watching in morbid fascination of the arriving calamity.
Ian leapt ashore in the barrier islands near Fort Myers. The first monstrous waves washed over the barrier island of Cayo Costa, an uninhabited state park. Then, portions of the southern side of Pine Island were devastated. The resort Island of Sanibel/Captiva was next. Most people had evacuated onto the mainland before Ian hit. The onrushing waves smashed into it like a freight train washing all before it. The powerful waves smashed into the miles-long causeway to the mainland, splitting it into several sections. The span had just been built ten years or so back, at a cost of $38 million dollars.
Next in the watery line of March was Ft. Myers Beach. The winds and waves obliterated much of the shore-side of the island, destroying the pier, the times square business area and hundreds of wooden cottages and homes. Continuing on shore, the aqueous monster slammed into Naples, Marco island and Bonita Beach, inundating structures and sluicing cars away like a giant fire hose. Most of the area streets were underwater. The flimsier structures suffered the worst, collapsing in the maelstrom and drowning residents.
Uncharacteristically, Ian slid up the central spine of Florida, dropping 15 to 20 inches of rain on all of the communities north and eastwards towards Jacksonville on the Northeast Coast of Florida. Flooding in most of the cities and some structural damages resulted.
Finally, the monster slid into the Atlantic Ocean, before driving back on land near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as a category one hurricane. Some flooding and minor damages occurred in the low country areas. The storm then ran up the coastal Unites States carrying heavy rain squalls along with it. The track of Ian will be long remembered. The damages left behind in Florida will take years to repair and many billions of dollars, from all levels of Government and the Insurance Industry.
The bigger loss is the rising toll of the dead that were drowned in the storm. Many had made the fateful decision to try and ride out the storm and perished in the watery assault.
Two million people in Florida were left without power to their homes. Many thousands had lost their homes and possessions completely. It will take many months for FEMA and the state and federal governments to try and relocate these unfortunate people. The businesses and homes that they lost are gone forever. Many had forgone flood insurance, as raising rates ate into their savings. They will be left with nothing.
The media interviews, with flood victims afterwards, were heart rending. Many of the affected were aged retirees, living alone in flimsy mobile homes, to face the raging storm. 911 calls were suspended after the howling winds had risen over 45 mph, making it unsafe for first responders to be out in the storm. It must have been heart gripping, listening to the hundreds of pleas for help coming from people desperately in need of rescue.
The death toll stands now at over 80 souls and is rising, as crews search through the shattered remains of once thriving communities. There isn’t a lot we can learn from this calamity except to heed warnings form authorities to vacate storm susceptible area along the shore when foul weather approaches.
Sanibel Island, Ft. Myers Beach and other communities will not make a comeback for several years. Many of the destroyed homes will never be rebuilt. The Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Florida Disaster relief are all reputable organizations that will do what they can to help those who survived. God Bless them every one.
(808 words )
Joseph Xavier Martin