Students encounter devastating floods in southwest Florida

“We weren’t expecting to have that bad of a storm,” sophomore Tian Ho said. “And then I’m sitting in the eyewall for six hours. There were houses that were completely gone, collapsed in on themselves.” 

Flooding in the streets of the coastal city of Englewood, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Tian Ho)

Salvatore Ambrosino | Oct. 5
Southern Editor

Florida Southern College students living in southwest Florida navigated flooded highways, power outages and debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

On Sept. 29, the category 4 storm made landfall near Fort Myers, battering the southwest coast of Florida with wind gusts clocked at 155 mph. The storm caused catastrophic storm surges, flooding and power outages lasting days after the storm.

Sophomore Tian Ho lives in Englewood, where the eyewall of the hurricane barreled over for 6 hours, tearing historic buildings to the ground. Hundreds of houses on the coast collapsed in on themselves, folded by the force of the storm’s winds. Some houses were ripped away, now completely missing, Ho describes. 

“Leaving the area, it was really unrecognizable,” Ho said. “It’s an older town—a lot of legacy buildings. A lot of those are completely gone, especially the mobile homes. Gone or large parts of them ripped off, some were completely in the canals.”

Ho lost power at around 3 p.m. on the day the hurricane made landfall, losing cellular service and access to the internet soon after. He remained without power and a reliable means of communication for 4 days, unsure of when he should return to campus and unable to receive messages sent by the college or keep up on the news in his area. 

Ho says Hurricane Ian is the worst storm he’s lived through.

“We weren’t expecting to have that bad of a storm,” Ho said. “And then I’m sitting in the eyewall for six hours. There were houses that were completely gone, collapsed in on themselves.” 

Freshman Ryan Larsh notes the smell of sea salt and mold in Naples the morning after the storm, a city 43 miles south of where the eye of the storm made landfall.

“When you go down the streets of Naples right now, on both sides there’s 5-ft of stuff on the street,” Larsh said. 

Many piled their wreckage on streets into mounds of water-logged furniture and shot drywall torn from the inside of homes, shattered to pieces by the storm. 

“Every single house, you’ll see people with their garages open, everything from their house outside, cut up and being thrown away.”  freshman and fellow Naples resident Kaden Krishna said. “It destroyed everything. The floors, the drywall, it’s shot. It’s heartbreaking because everything they had pretty much had to be thrown away. Whether it’s furniture, carpet, tools—anything really.” 

Over the last few days, Krishna has been helping his neighbors clean out their houses. 

Flooded-out cars are scattered on the streets of Naples. Boats are flipped upside down in the road, “in total chaos,” Krishna says.

“People with their car hoods open trying to get them started. Everybody’s cars are completely toast,” Krishna said. “We couldn’t start them.” 

Infrastructural damage is projected to cost the state billions of dollars in repairs and is expected to disrupt vehicle traffic across the state for weeks to come. 

“A really big landmark in Naples is the Naples Pier,” Krishna said. “It’s completely devastated.” 

During the storm, communications in southwest and central Florida deteriorated. 

“I couldn’t really call anyone,” Larsh said. 

According to the Federal Communications Committee, half a million Floridians were without landline telephone, home internet, or cable on the morning after the storm. 

“Basic communication was a struggle,” Krishna said. “We tried to call people to see if they needed help and we didn’t hear back from them until the next day when it turned out they really did need help.” 

The storm generated 3 months of rain within 48 hours, overflowing the Myakka River, severing Interstate 75 with flood waters both ways. Two major bridges, one being the Sanibel Causeway, collapsed in the wake of the storm.

Freshman Zoe Geerhart says it took her over 7 hours on Oct. 1 to travel from her residence in Fort Myers to Lakeland—a trip that usually takes her less than 3 hours.

“We left at 11 a.m.,” Geerhart said. “We got back [to campus] at 6 p.m.” 

Geerhart says she encountered 4 highways blocked off by police cars to navigate. 

“We had to keep backtracking,” Geerhart said. “We had to turn around and try to find another way back. They were turning everybody around.” 

Geerhart had to take a “very long” detour throughout the backroads of central Florida to get back to campus. 

In preparation for the storm Geerhart’s family filled storage bins with clean water, intended for flushing a toilet. There’s a boil water notice where Geerhart lives, so it’s turned into their drinking water as her Fort Myers residence remained without power on Oct. 3, nearly a week after the storm rolled through the Florida peninsula. 

“We could only drink bottled water, we couldn’t take a shower,” Geerhart said. “Up here it’s nice to be able to take a shower and wash my hands, but my family doesn’t know how long it’s going to be until we have safe water again.”  


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