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The Evacuation Investigation: Surviving the Storm

Survivors: "There Shouldn't have been so many Lives Lost"
Mitch Pacyna and Michael Yost
Memorial for Hurricane Ian victims
Memorial for Hurricane Ian victims
Posted at 4:56 PM, May 22, 2023

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — For a passionate group of Ft. Myers Beach residents, including Michael Yost, grief is settling nearly eight months after losing friends and loved ones.

But pain, for Yost, has turned into urgent accountability questions.

“The sadness was a while ago. It’s more like annoyance and anger at the situation both on the representatives' faults and our own faults, you know,” Yost said. “Should we have taken it more seriously? Of course, but they should have relayed it to us sooner, and a lot more desperately. Like, ‘Hey Guys! Leave!’ You know?"

At first, Yost says he and his girlfriend Megan were reluctant to speak on the record, saying for many survivors there is a level of embarrassment in having to defend their decision not to evacuate.

Instead, they strongly feel all the context of the moments leading up to Ian needs to be known in order to understand how they handled their own evacuation decisions.

Specifically, what Yost says some survivors feel was the root of the confusion: a less-than-urgent tone Lee County leaders used during their Hurricane Ian news conferences.

They say this resulted in making the decision to leave or stay that much more difficult.

Ultimately, they feel they were unable to make the most informed evacuation decision.

This time it was, it was really like the day before. They're like, ‘Get out now. Get out. Now this is serious.’ And we're like, we don't have a car. I live on an island. I have a bike. You know, we have two animals. You know, it's really hard to just go, ‘Alright, three hours, let's get out of here,’ Yost added.
Michael Yost

Yost’s perspective comes from not only living through Hurricane Ian but also evacuating and suffering home damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

He said just a few years ago during Hurricane Irma, messages from local leaders were much more urgent.

“The officials were coming around to the neighborhood saying, ‘Are you guys aware?’ and letting us know face to face,” Yost said as he compared Irma to Ian.

“Now that I look back at it, it’s like yeah, you guys dropped the ball. I don’t really remember anybody coming out and saying ‘Hey, get out.’ You know? And it never felt like a mandatory thing. And it should have been.”

Yost was among thousands who lost his belongings during Ian. Not only was his second-story Fort Myers Beach home damaged, but Yost also lost his livelihood, a small business he ran hosting haunted Fort Myers Beach pub crawls.

“Water came right up to our door about 14 feet high. It was terrifying just sitting there gritting our teeth. Every once in a while we would hunker down in the back bedroom or bathroom and wait, and just when it seemed to calm down the windows and building would start shaking again.”

He also lost two of his closest friends on the island during Ian, Mitch Pacyna, and Daymon Utterback.

Click here to read about Mitch and Daymon's last hours during the storm.

WATCH NOW | Extended interview with Michael Yost and Megan Rose

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Michael Yost and Megan Rose
Mitch Pacyna and Michael Yost
Michael Yost and Daymon Utterback

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