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A Christmas night commentary on an unforgettable 2022 in SWFL

Hurricane Ian shaped so much of the year and will for many years
Posted at 4:16 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 16:17:02-05

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — As we all mark Christmas and approach the end of 2022, what a year it was for all of us.

2022 will, forever, be marked as Hurricane Ian and what it did to Southwest Florida.

The loss of life with more than 150 deaths from the September storm.

Hundreds of thousands of stories of survival.

I've had a distinct vantage point to cover this for the last three months. This "little drone", our SkyFox.

Six years ago, I anchored mornings in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We had a major flood projected to hit in late September 2016. However, each morning, the sun would come up and, around six or 6:30 a.m., we wouldn't know if the Cedar River had washed through the city, as it had in 2008, a flood that changed the city forever. We didn't have a drone. Didn't have a licensed operator.

I decided, by the end of 2017, I would learn how to fly a drone and get the FAA licensing. Newsrooms need to have a drone.

Hurricane Ian hit on September 28th. The following day, with a charged-up SkyFox, we headed out. Of course, the images that we saw shocked us. We couldn't reach Sanibel because of the breach on the Sanibel Causeway. We couldn't get across the Matanzas Pass Bridge to Fort Myers Beach.

So we started here, at San Carlos Island, for all of the mobile homes and the boats the hurricane destroyed in the first 24 hours after the storm. We even got to show one woman the damage to her home on Main Street at San Carlos Island because the mud from the storm made it impossible for her to reach her home, 100 feet into the muck.

In the following days, we saw the storm surge in south Cape Coral. FOX4 certified meteorologist Katie Walls and I talked with a mother who had her children ride it out on top of a minivan in the garage as the water came up.

We saw the power lines twisted over Skyline Boulevard in Cape Coral, showing up exactly why the power was out for tens of thousands of LCEC customers and for as long as it was. We saw the debris up and down the neighborhoods off Coronado, from Cape Coral Parkway to the Yacht Club.

The days and weeks of early October blended together.

In North Fort Myers, I'll never forget the living conditions at this mobile home park at Pondella and Tamiami Trail. Nadeen Yanes and I spent the evening at Dunbar and Ford in Fort Myers, inland but with people who survived so much damage.

Matlacha, with so much uncertainty, after this historic storm, even with the bridge to get people to Pine Island back open, quickly after Ian.

In Port Charlotte, on October 18th, we got to see more of the hurricane response, up-close, people helping anyone who needed it. Just another symbol of people opening their hearts and offering what they could.

In downtown Fort Myers, Centennial Park became the center for people to mourn the lives lost from Ian, even just yards from where crews had the task of clearing the boats now damaged and stuck on land.

These scenes filled so much of our drone video from October.

Blue tarps covering roofs across multiple counties, people watching out for the next rainfall coming and hoping it wouldn't seep through.

On November 1, five weeks after the storm, I finally got to Fort Myers BEach to see the damage for myself.

It hurt... it hurt a lot.

I moved here in February to call this place "home" for, hopefully, ever and ever. I would drive from my place in Cape Coral to walk Fort Myers Beach three times a week, becoming familiar with so many of the buildings and the businesses. So many of them now gone. So many of the businesses uncertain if they'll come back.

We do see the signs of hope everywhere. The Sanibel Causeway is back open and, this video from late October, showed the lighthouse still standing, even as so much around it is in need of major rebuilding.

As we take stock of 2022, let's take a moment to remember the lives lost and also take a moment for ourselves. We survived this horrible storm.

We did.

That counts for something.

Now the challenge for all of us. Let's make 2023 a year to be just as kind, just as caring as we were in the days and the weeks after September 28th. We'll be there every step of the way.

On the ground and with our trusty little SkyFox. Merry Christmas.

- Chris