Six months after Ian: Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel remain changed but show human resilience

Patrick Connolly, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. — Darkness has not yet yielded to the rising sun, but there’s already a flurry of activity on the tip of Sanibel Island. More than a hundred island locals and public officials have gathered around the community’s beacon of light to mark five months after Hurricane Ian’s brutal arrival in this peaceful tropical paradise. In late September 2022, the Category 4 storm ravaged the coast of Southwest Florida, destroying homes, leveling businesses and damaging ecosystems.

For many who remember the hurricane’s impact and the trauma it caused, it’s an occasion worth getting out of bed for: the relighting of the Sanibel Lighthouse. The historic monument surrendered one of its four legs to the catastrophic storm but remained standing, unlike the surrounding cottages, which were flattened amid Ian’s devastating march across the island.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a symbolic milestone and a meaningful one as the lighthouse again begins to blink, inspiring cheers and tears, shining light into a community that has experienced dark times.

“She’s broken, but she’s still there. We’re a little broken, but we’re still here. And that’s the resiliency of what this island is,” said Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith. “We see this lighthouse as a beacon of hope, a beacon of life and a beacon of community. I couldn’t be more proud for all of us to be here.”

Though it’s been half a year since Florida’s Gulf Coast felt the powerful storm surge and 155 mph winds — and there are glimmers of hope — there are still many signs of devastation.

Boats and dumpsters that rose with floodwaters remain forcefully wedged into mangroves. New utility poles stand where previous ones were snapped like toothpicks. Overnight, mobile home parks were transformed into piles of rubble that still remain. Beachfront hotels and condos have turned into empty lots or husks of the oceanfront oases they used to be.


Ian sent climate refugees fleeing, some of whom may never return to the area. Especially on Fort Myers Beach, where land values have risen since the storm, some saw no other option but to cut their losses and find a new home elsewhere.

But for many others, the choice is clear.

Stay and rebuild at whatever cost.

‘This is home’


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