It’s hard to believe a year has passed since Hurricane Ian slammed our coast and devastated our community. Ian clocked wind speeds as a level 4 hurricane, level 5 at times. Needless to say, September 28, 2022 will be a permanent memory for Vince and I, along with thousands of residents from Fort Myers, Captiva, Sanibel, and other parts of Florida that were impacted by this beast of a storm.
Clueless. Yes, Vince and I were absolutely clueless as we prepared for this storm. Although we spent 20 years in Hawaii, we had no experience with hurricanes. Vince followed all of the guidelines and prepped the house incredibly well. I canceled all of my coaching sessions for a couple of days and we evacuated to my mother-in-law’s house further inland. Although we later thought we should probably evacuate further, for a variety of reasons we chose instead to stay.
With fabric hurricane shutters up, Vince and I were able to sit on the back lanai and watch the storm in a protected place. The wind and the rain were crazy for sure, but we had peace as we spent hours watching the storm rage around us and over the lake at my mother-in-law’s. It was actually amazing to watch.
The nagging concern for everyone was the projected storm surge that was still expected to come. Our youngest son gave us warnings and updates as we had lost power by then.
For unknown reasons, Carter was the only person we could call. He was our point of contact with the outside world.
Things got real when the car alarms started going off outside. Opening the inside garage door to hear better, Vince came back and announced that water was coming into the garage. Vince then looked outside and saw the streets were flooded, the water in the lake was rising fast, the cars were soon under water, and it wasn’t looking good. Water was rising quickly.
Vince placed a call to Carter to update him. Together they discussed how to create water flotation devices from empty two liter bottles and possible strategies in case the water started coming into the house. Vince shoved an empty bottle down my shirt and told Carter that he would be taking Mom and Grandma out the window if the water came in and got up to the window ledge. When water started pouring into the house a few minutes later, he called Carter to let him know.
Sitting at the dining room table with an empty water bottle stuffed down my shirt and feeling water on my feet, I told God “We’ve lost our cars. We have likely lost our house and everything we own. But, please help us to be okay.”……I quickly added, “ But, if we aren’t going to be okay, please just make it quick. Please knock us over the head with tree branches so we are unconscious when we drown.” Lol. I covered both possibilities in prayer. I asked God numerous times, while sitting at that table, “Are we going to die today.” And still, God kept all of us surprisingly calm.
I cannot fathom the pressure on Vince’s shoulders as he was praying about how to save both his wife and his mother. Our precious kids were scared to death that they were going to lose both parents and their grandmother. This storm was no joke!
After hearing that water was coming into the house, Carter called Mykal and Jacqui for a family prayer time. From three different states, our beautiful children prayed for us. When they prayed, the water stopped. We give God all the glory. The last thing Carter heard before we completely lost all cell reception was “The water is going down.”
It was surreal, to say the least, when we crawled into bed that night knowing that we were safe. We wondered how the rest of our community had fared. We wondered about the damage. We wondered if our house was still standing and whether or not our cars could be saved. Mostly, we were just thankful.
When Vince’s sister came to see us the next day, we discovered that parts of the Sanibel Causeway had collapsed. This causeway is only a couple of miles from our house. We discovered that Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach were in horrible shape as they took the brunt of the storm. Keri’s husband was a sheriff and he said they had no idea how many were dead or missing. Heartbreaking!
Debris and destruction were everywhere and numerous boats were in the grassy marshes along the roadways. As Keri drove us into our neighborhood, Vince and I were ecstatic to see that the homes were still standing and looked incredible considering what they had just endured. We laughed when we saw that a boat was in the middle of the road as we turned down our street. Trees were pulled up and the roots were facing us but our neighborhood looked amazing. Vince thought for sure he had a new boat when he found one sitting in our yard. Sadly, the owner disagreed when she came looking for it. All we could do was thank God when we saw that our house looked, for the most part, unscathed. I have always said that the homes in our neighborhood have good bones and Hurricane Ian proved that to be true.
Opening the door, we found furniture toppled, mud all over the floors and a water line showing that the water rose to about 1 ½ feet in our house. It was closer to 8 – 10 feet outside but, praise God, it was not as high inside. The water level in the garage was higher and thousands of our children’s books that were on the lower shelves were destroyed. We had a lot of damage from flooding but we could not complain. God had been very good to us, as usual.
Having lost all of our cars, Vince found himself hitchhiking back and forth to our house to try and work on it. I was amazed that people continually offered to give him a ride. It is incredible how compassionate and helpful individuals are in times of crisis. Nevertheless, some friends of ours were appalled that Vince was hitchhiking and they quickly loaned us a car. We were all in this together and the people rose up to help each other. Carter took some days off of work and drove down to help. What a gift. He brought some much needed supplies that our kids and their families had helped provide. In addition, some friends of ours scrubbed all of the mud off our floors. Wow!! Despite the chaos in the house, it was wonderful to walk on clean floors. Samaritan’s Purse also came down and helped families, us included, for months. It was powerful to see everyone coming together to help each other.
This past year has been brutal as Vince has worked to renovate our house, for the second time I might add, following Hurricane Ian. In addition, both of our mothers passed away this past winter. Still, we are fortunate. God was with us through the storm, both literal and figurative, and has been with us through this ongoing season of recovery.
It is heartbreaking to hear stories and see pictures of the destruction. Vince and I were incredibly fortunate. Others were less so. Not long ago, Vince and I drove around Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach to see how things were coming. There is still a lot of debris and they are still in a state of disrepair. It will take years for our community to recover.
As I reflect on this past year and our journey through Hurricane Ian and the aftermath, I am reminded that God doesn’t promise any of us ease and comfort. Life is hard. There will be twists and turns that we don’t expect and crises that knock us down. His promise is to be with us no matter what comes. He was certainly with us. I pray, wherever you are and whatever you may be going through, that you will feel His presence today.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.