On Wednesday, the water that normally fills Florida’s Tampa Bay receded, blown back by powerful winds as Hurricane Ian approached the Gulf Coast. The phenomenon is called a “negative surge,” an ominous foreshadowing of the storm to come. Ian made landfall as a major Category 4 storm about 100 miles south the next day, striking Fort Myers with heavy blows.
When Tampa Bay drained, a number of people ventured out to explore the exposed sand and silt—despite warning from local officials to stay back. Because hurricanes blow counterclockwise, the winds at the northern edge of Ian’s system were moving east to west with such force that they pushed bay water out into the Gulf of Mexico. Water eventually refilled the bay. But then, the surge advanced.
Businesses and homes on the state’s southwestern coast were hammered by the storm. They face a long rebuilding process. In Fort Myers, video posted on social media showed the Times Square, a colorful area of shops and restaurants, leveled. Sanibel, a barrier island dotted with resorts and connected to Fort Myers by a causeway, was devastated. Only a skeletal framework remains of the popular Fort Myers pier. The winds and heavy rains left thousands trapped by flooding and millions without power. Ian moved north and inland, losing strength. It was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it headed toward the Carolinas.
It will take months to clean up the damage—a concern that reaches into the fall and winter months, as residents of the Sunshine State rely heavily on seasonal tourism for their livelihoods.
The owners of Nervous Nellie’s, a seafood restaurant on Fort Myers Beach, said in a statement, “Our entire staff is safe, and although the restaurant sustained incredible damage, the structure of the building is intact. We are hoping to work our way through this and be back stronger than ever.”
Sanibel Councilmember John Henshaw was realistic about the extent of the damage and its immediate effects. “We have to be patient,” he says. “We have to start looking at where are we going to stay and live for a significant period of time” during the cleanup efforts.
President Joe Biden declared the state a disaster area, clearing the way for federal aid to people in numerous counties. The aid can include grants and low-interest loans to help residents and business owners hit by the disaster.
Pray for the people suffering after the devastation, and for those who have opportunity to help with housing, cleanup, and restoration.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15
(Jake Moses, 19, left, and Heather Jones, 18, explore a section of destroyed businesses at Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on Thursday, September 29, 2022, following Hurricane Ian. Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)