The region was left with 2 million people without power and a fear that a huge death count awaits.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Karen Baughman sat in her Fort Myers home darkened by storm shutters as Hurricane Ian roared around her, eventually leaving complete and total destruction in its wake.
The storm, which is one of the worst to ever hit Florida, seemed to go on forever for the 81-year-old Baughman. Fort Myers, in Lee County, was hit especially hard by the storm, which caused catastrophic flooding throughout the city, turning streets into makeshift rivers.
“It was a feeling of helplessness,” she said over the phone. “It was just waiting and praying that it got over in a hurry, and it did not. It just parked next to us.”
She is among the millions of people in southwest Florida who endured a terrifying 24 hours and are now realizing their homes and cities will be forever altered by Ian. The massive storm brought near Category 5 winds, devastating rains and storm surges that exceeded 10 feet. The storm’s wrath and its massive rainfall will be felt in most corners of Florida, even as it leaves the state and heads out into the Atlantic Ocean.
No place, however, was harder hit than Lee County, where the storm made landfall Wednesday. It wiped out bridges, left the vast majority of the county without power, 1,300 hospital patients needing to be evacuated from local hospitals and a growing fear that search and rescue missions will yield frightening death counts.
“I lost everything I own,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach, a Republican whose district represents a portion of Lee County. “I have two pairs of jeans, four shirts and a pair of shoes to my name. Everything is gone.”
Roach made the last-minute decision at 11 p.m. Tuesday night to make the “white knuckle” drive to his brother’s house on Florida’s Atlantic Coast as the weather quickly deteriorated. But he said he stayed in contact with his neighbors throughout the night as Ian destroyed his Waterway Estates neighborhood.
Many who stayed behind huddled on the upper floor of his street’s only two-story home, just hoping the rising flood waters would not reach them.
Gordon wrapped parts of his home in blankets of Kevlar that he said protected much of it from flying debris. He said Ian sat over his community for seven hours before the slow-moving storm finally moved on. He watched the high winds and rain from behind one of the large protective blankets draped over the birdcage of his swimming pool.
“Just the power of nature is un-freaking believable,” Gordon said. “Pretty much everyone has stuff off of their roofs.”