Charlie Whitehead, 64, lives on San Carlos Island, across the Fort Myers Beach isle, and has spent most days since the storm trying to salvage family photos. This one depicts him and his wife, Debbie, when they were younger.
Nearly two weeks since Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida’s southwestern coast, battered communities are slowly beginning to sort through the damage the storm left. Families that were chin-deep in water in their homes have found there is little left to salvage: the furniture that floated around has dried but is now beginning to mold, wood chests and drawers bear signs of the water damage, electronics are now useless and few cars survived the flooding. Debris that piles high in every driveway offers a glimpse into what the homes behind them used to look like and what families held dear but are now forced to throw out. The trash piles include mementos too deformed to save, treasured photographs, rugs, kitchen tables, dining chairs, mirrors, clothes — most of everything covered in mud.
“The big trash trucks with the claws, they just come in, they pick that stuff up like it’s nothing. Seventeen years’ worth of hard work gone in a matter of five minutes,” says Miguel Romero, 26, who lives in the Linda Loma neighborhood, near the beach. Romero, his partner and their 1-year-old daughter, along with his parents, went into the attic of their ground-floor home to survive. Almost everything in the house was ruined. But at the end, like many others here, stuff is stuff, he says, and he’s thankful his family is alive.