FORT MYERS, Fla. — Today we are going further into neighborhoods directly impacted by devastation from Hurricane Ian. It's been a week and neighbors continue to assess extensive damage, and that includes those in the Fort Myers Shores area.
Fort Myers Shores is an area right near the Caloosahatchee River, so many of the homes are on canals. Even though most of them are standing intact, neighbors tell me the four feet of strong storm surge completely ruined the insides of their homes.
Lee Reed, "We lost basically everything. Our whole life, I mean, things of value but the sentimental stuff that you lost like letters from my grandfather that I can never read again. It’s quite an experience, something you’ll probably never forget, but the older you get the harder it is... 12-hour days to try to strip down the home, everything in the garage is gone so it’s horrendous."
Lee showed me around his home and says it'll take years for everything around here to be rebuilt, "We have to strip and rebuild. It’s like starting over, purchasing furniture, getting the house back to where it’s livable, the central air was submerged you can’t use it anymore."
He goes through memories of picture albums trying to dry out in the front yard, also memories of a vacuum that was passed down to him after his mom passed away — and he doesn't think it'll ever work again.
Lee and his wife say they evacuated when Lee Alert sent the signals to leave that the title surge was going to be that close to the river.
Some other neighbors down the street didn't evacuate. Michelle and her parents stayed throughout Hurricane Ian, including her dad Bill who had heart surgery months ago.
"You really think that everything's going to be OK. You’re fine if inland, you’re going to be all right. In the blink of an eye you’re in chest deep water trying to get over," says Michelle.
She tells me the house isn't livable, so they are staying on the boat in the backyard as they continue to try and salvage their most precious possessions, including a rug that her brother gave her parents. "My brother served in Afghanistan in the Navy and he brought that back to my parents when he passed away in 2008, and that’s one of the only things they have that he ever gave to them."
Yet throughout all the cleanup — they are happy to be alive and continue to push forward, like Tom who stopped us on the street to say... "This is where you want to live. There’s nobody going to leave here, they’re all going to survive and it’s just going to get better. But because it’s the people this material stuff — I’m a cancer survivor — material means nothing, you know what I’m saying. In reality I’m standing here, I’m surviving."