First change: 01.10.2022 – 15:40 Last change: 01.10.2022 – 15:38
FORT MYERS BEACH (USA) (AFP) – Pete Belinda and his wife walk slowly along the side of a road on the outskirts of Fort Myers Beach in Southwest Florida. They are tired and are each lugging a large suitcase. “That’s all we have left,” he says, touched.
His city, a quiet spot on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, became the epicenter of Hurricane Ian’s destruction on Wednesday.
The couple lived on the ground floor of their daughter’s house, where they moved six months ago, but the storm left them homeless.
“It’s all upside down, wet, muddy,” says 52-year-old Pete Belinda. “We don’t really know what to do at the moment. We’re calling some friends and family to see where we can live for a while because we have nowhere to go.”
Fort Myers Beach is a nearly deserted town after Ian’s Passage, manned only by emergency services vehicles and a few people returning home to check on anything they’ve lost. The part of the city most affected by Ian, that by the sea, on the island of Estero, is a field of ruins.
The police deny access to anyone who doesn’t live in this area, but a helicopter flight allows us to check the extent of the damage. The Category 4 hurricane’s winds destroyed the many wooden houses in the area; and in some places there isn’t even any rubble to be seen, just empty lots where a house used to stand.
Rich Gibboni is one of the residents who lost his home. “The second floor collapsed because of the wind, the first floor was flooded to the roof,” he explains resignedly.
This 50-year-old man has gone to another neighborhood in Fort Myers Beach on the small island of San Carlos to look for supplies. And now he’s returning to Estero Island, where he’s found refuge in a hotel with about twenty people.
Nearby, Chris Bills, a 72-year-old woman, tilts her hat on her head as she waits for a bus to pick her up with her husband. This afternoon, an ambulance patrol gave them two hours to collect their belongings and leave the apartment they had rented for a few days by the sea.
The couple traveled here from England to enjoy the good weather and ignored the hurricane forecasts.
“I didn’t think it would be that strong,” he admits. “I was very scared. We had never seen anything like it.”
In the neighborhood they are leaving behind, the force of the hurricane stranded dozens of boats on the streets — some still moored to a stretch of dock — and dragged cars into the waters of a nearby bay, where they are now floating.
Gibboni remains hopeful despite the damage inflicted by Ian. “The mood is high. We have to survive and that’s the only way,” he says. “We have to start over. It will take a long time, so we have to regain our strength.”
© 2022 AFP