FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tuesday marks five months since Hurricane Ian ravaged Southwest Florida, washing away homes, businesses, and hundreds of lives with it.
While our coastal communities still work to rebuild after the storm, they're also still mourning the losses that changed their lives forever.
"That’s the inspiration behind it is just trying to help family members, trying to help the community that is still grieving to this day.”
Five months after Hurricane Ian and the Fort Myers community continues to heal.
“I gave the community a canvas and allowed them to express their grief in the best way they’d see fit and what they created was something really special and memorable.”
Just days after the hurricane, a memorial wall sprung up at Centennial Park downtown. Countless photos of those victims of the storm are placed on the wall along with flowers, remembering those who were lost. Leo Soto is its founder.
“That’s why I think it’s so important that these memorials exist— it puts faces behind all of the casualty numbers," said Leo Soto, founder of the Wall of Hope Foundation. "You see each person that lost their life has a family behind them that is suffering and continues to suffer.”
The memorial wall stood in Centennial Park, having been removed just before the start of the new year. Two months later and there are still plans to create a more permanent memorial in the city.
"Anything about a permanent memorial or anything like that, I haven’t been updated on," says Soto. "But I’m more than willing to participate.”
A spokesperson with the City of Fort Myers told us photos had been taken of the memorial and that they would be displaying them at various city buildings. We reached out Tuesday to see if there were any updates to those plans but have not heard back just yet.
“I have a lot of ways that we can work on to make things permanent using a lot of high quality, artificial flowers that would give the community a place to have to not worry about the dying flowers," said Soto. "In essence, preserve the memory and idea of the original wall of hope while still maintaining that beauty and that proper honors that the victims deserve.”
Soto is very much open to the idea of helping the city create a permanent memorial. Helping the community in any way to continue to remember and heal.
“I’m very cognizant and understand that things might not be able to happen so fast, but as long as there’s a plan and as long as there’s a track that we can follow— that’s all you can ask for.”