MATLACHA, Fla. — As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to embark on a multi-day swing through several early voting states, his leadership in the days after Hurricane Ian is expected to be a big part of his campaign message.
While speaking to select media outlets on Thursday, one day after his official announcement, DeSantis highlighted the quick rebuild of the Pine Island Bridge and the Sanibel Causeway.
It’s an example he’s given several times.
THREE DAYS TO REBUILD
As Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida, the strong winds and high surge washed away parts of the Pine Island Bridge. The small barrier island was cut off from the mainland.
Just three days after construction began, a replacement bridge was opened.
DeSantis often uses the quick response to highlight his leadership.
“I’ve said, ‘Let’s build a wall.’ I will send my guys that built the Pine Island Bridge to the southern border to build the wall,” DeSantis said last week while speaking about immigration.
If Pine Island becomes a fixture of a DeSantis Presidential campaign, Larry Solinger, owner of the Matlacha Menagerie, a gift shop and gallery on Pine Island Road, believes it will highlight the Governor’s accomplishments.
“The response was excellent, in my opinion,” said Solinger. “Things got done. I still remember the day that the Publix trucks went by here, it gave you goosebumps.”
Meanwhile, across the street at That BBQ Place, owner John Petrus worries Pine Island has been forgotten.
“I think I could talk to a hundred customers who would say the same thing,” Petrus said. “The storm passed, we’re what — six months later? — people like me are technically homeless. I have friends that are just now getting electricity at their house.”
SLOWLY RETURNING TO NORMAL
In the island town of Matlacha, restaurants and shops are reopening.
“Little by little by little,” Solinger said. “We’re not healed, but we’re on the mend.”
For longtime shoppers of the Matlacha Menagerie, a trip to the gallery is different than in years past.
The building that housed the store for years on the north end of Pine Island Road is still uninhabitable. Solinger and his wife moved the store across the street.
“For us, it’s amazing,” said Solinger.
For Petrus, the recovery has been exhausting.
Working seven days a week, Petrus says his business has doubled since last year due to support from island locals.
“When you belong to a community, you kinda put them first,” said Petrus.
“If you can put some normalcy in (your customer’s) lives, their lives get better, which increases your life.”