TAMPA, Fla. — It wasn’t just the coastline, though it took most of the blow.
As Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, the beach towns were the first to go as water and winds up to 150 mph decimated paradise towns from Fort Myers Beach to Punta Gorda — a city familiar with disaster, taking close to a decade to recover from 2004′s Hurricane Charley.
Houses were torn from foundations by water that acted as a conveyor belt. Personal belongings and building materials fused with wet earth.
But the wrecked beach towns marked only the beginning.
An hour northeast of Fort Myers, in rural inland communities like Arcadia, the extent of the damage began to reveal itself Friday.
The trunks in the orange groves bend to the right or left, mapping the trail of the storm that blazed through the farming community.
Train tracks along a road were picked up by the storm, twisted and turned, and pulled up from the ground.
And then there was the flooding.
Roads leading into the town, where the average median income is about $34,000 a household and more than 30% of the population lives in poverty, were shredded as though they were made of cardboard instead of concrete. Trailers and homes were submerged.
An hour north in Lithia, residents braced for their turn. By Friday evening, the Alafia River splashed against the bottoms of mailboxes and obscured chain-link fences on the side-streets off Lithia Pinecrest Road. And the water was still rising.