Eyewitness: “This is almost like an A-bomb landed on the place.”
The brunt of Hurricane Ian’s fury was felt on the barrier islands off Southwest Florida.
Sanibel Island was once a beautiful holiday spot, with its clear water and wide beaches of white sand.
There are many wealthy and famous people who live on the waterfront.
On Wednesday afternoon, the storm whipped up a torrent of water that ripped through the island. It left no buildings unaffected, and destroyed homes and lives.
The causeway is the only road to the island and parts of it were washed away. The only way to Sanibel is by boat.
Sanibel’s fire department borrowed a boat that was used for pleasure cruises, and they are now using it to rescue those who have become stranded on the Island.
A dozen survivors await them at the jetty when they arrive. Each one has a different story about Wednesday afternoon, when Ian arrived on land.
Marylou Holler, a seven-year resident of Sanibel, says that water began to come in within five minutes. Within three minutes the water was at 3m (9ft) and she was up on the third floor.
“I hid in a closet until the roof fell off. The wind then came in so I went behind a mattress and stayed there. I am grateful to be alive. I will never, ever and ever again evacuate.”
Gregory Anerino climbs aboard the boat along with three cats carriers.
He says, “I have lived on Sanibel for 35 years. I have been through seven hurricanes – it’s never been this bad.”
“This is almost like an A-bomb exploded in this area. This is what it reminded me of when I was in Vietnam in 1968/69. It first took my roof off, then my upper staircase. The only thing I have now are my two bedrooms at the back, and my cats who slept in my bedrooms. It’s all gone.
Family members wait to see their relatives as the boat pulls up to the mainland port. Holly Smith, the mayor of Sanibel is waiting to greet them and cross names off a sheet when they arrive.
She says, “People call me all the time. People who are walking off the boat, their families wait for this news.” It’s not going be a quick-term recovery. It’s going be a long-term one. This island is beloved around the globe and I know the strength and integrity of who and what we are. We will rebuild.”
Although it’s only been a brief trip back to Sanibel from the mainland, many see it as the beginning and end of a journey. They don’t know when or if they will ever return home.