As Hurricane Ian lashed Fort Myers with howling winds and sloshed floodwaters over the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, veterinarian Sharon Powell and her husband retreated to the safest place they could find for themselves and their pets — a downtown parking garage.
Then they waited — riding out as the fierce southern eye wall of the Category 4 storm passed directly overhead.
“The surge from the river will be coming this way soon,” Powell shouted while dodging chunks of drywall from a nearby construction site that were flying like missiles through the garage. “They’re predicting 8 to 12 feet. So we will be ready to go up to the second level.”
The hunkers in the garage, in downtown Fort Myers just south of the Caloosahatchee River late Wednesday afternoon as Ian, its winds still at what the National Hurricane Center estimated at 140 mph at the time, battered a huge swath of the Southwest Florida coast, driving record storm surge into many coastal communities. At 11 a..m. Wednesday, portions of Fort Myers were already submerged under three to four feet of water, the city said via Twitter. And got worse later.
Powell is a Fort Myers native. The 59-year-old owns the Edison Park Animal Hospital and lives in a house less than a mile from the Sun Trust Plaza garage, located on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“This is the most destructive and dangerous hurricane I’ve ever seen here,” she said, nimbly jumping over a shrub that skidded through the garage. “It’s worse than we expected.”
Ian, which came is a slow moving monster with 155 mph winds — two mph short of a Category 5 —pummeled and soaked Florida’s Gulf Coast islands, towns, cities and gated communities all day and into the night.
Late afternoon, in another parking garage south of downtown and across the river from Cape Coral, a Herald reporter and photographer hunkered down as the eye ground slowly past, listening to the wind’s shrieks and moans and flinching when electrical transformers blew and lit up the air with green flashes. A gas station sign was ripped to shreds, trees bowed and broke, roof tiles sailed, aluminum siding unraveled, a dumpster tumbled across Colonial Boulevard. A massive SUV shuddered in the gusts. Rain whirled at impossible angles.
Out on the streets, stoplights dangled 6 feet above intersections. Fallen trees created blockades. All roads leading to Fort Myers Beach and the Sanibel causeway turned into impassable rivers.
The city center was flooded with 4-5 feet of water. Boats from the river bumped against parking meters.