How bad? Fort Myers Beach knows
Actually, more than that. Every single thing that was forecast from Hurricane Ian for Citrus County by people who know their business — damaging winds, drenching rain, historic storm surge, widespread flooding and power outages — none of it came to be.
Instead, it went elsewhere: Fort Myers Beach received the devastating direct hit and storm surge. Kissimmee in Osceola County, extreme rain and flooding.
And on Thursday in Citrus County, even as everything was shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Ian trouble, folks emerged from homes looking a little dazed and bewildered at the damage we didn’t get.
Call it luck. Call it grace. Call it whatever you want, but the facts are this:
For the umpteenth time, a named storm aimed right for Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek’s living room, took an odd turn without warning and skipped right around us. I can’t explain it.
But I can blog it:
— Well done, everyone. We were prepared, I guess, the best we could be. Sheriff’s Capt. Troy Hess handled himself admirably running emergency management and didn’t get mad at me for calling him at night.
Let’s please not turn this into one of those, “We were prepared for nuthin’!” episodes, OK? Schools needed to close. Businesses were smart to announce closings ahead of time to give employees and customers the heads up. An evacuation order for west of U.S. 19 was right in line with what we thought could potentially happen from Ian.
It didn’t happen. That’s because of the weather, but it could be the opposite result next time.
— What storm surge is to Crystal River, high winds are to Floral City: Trouble. Those beautiful oaks are majestic until one lands on your house or yanks down power lines during a high-wind event.
Wednesday night was definitely a high wind event. So Thursday morning I went looking for photos of storm damage, because I’ve been trained since a newspaper pup that’s what you do after bad weather, and knew the best chance for finding such damage is Floral City.
As you can see from the picture in today’s blog, I found it: big oak tree across a power line. I parked the car and snapped off some photos while county work crews were securing the scene.
Now. I’m a government reporter, which means I hang around people who wear ties and skirts (usually not at the same time), and I write about what government things they do for folks, such as helping when trees fall on their houses.
But I’m not exactly aware of my surroundings in the real world, which makes me a challenge at real-world scenes. During my Chronicle days, photo editor Matt Beck saved me from falling off many a cliff.
After taking a few photos Thursday, I noticed someone speaking with the county worker who probably knew something about the situation. I started to wander across the yard to introduce myself when the worker yelled at me to stop. I looked down and my next step would have been on the fallen power line.
Matt Beck, where are you when I need you?
— My heart breaks for Fort Myers Beach. I’m quite familiar with the area; my first Florida vacation from Michigan was to Fort Myers. That was over 40 years ago and I saw something there that stayed with me until, well, even now.
It was February, sunny in the 60s. Tuesday, early afternoon. We were driving on Estero Boulevard, the main drag in Fort Myers Beach, when I looked over and saw four guys sitting on milk crates drinking Busch beer. I was astounded. I thought, “I wanna move to a place where I can sit on a milk crate in February and drink Busch beer!”
Since moving to Florida I've visited Fort Myers Beach many, many times and had always smiled at that memory.
The whole area — Captiva and Sanibel, Pine Island, Cape Coral, Fort Myers — I’ve known and loved for decades. People important to me live there (they’re OK, thankfully). Some years ago, the Fort Myers News-Press editor invited me to interview after I won some big state award at the Chronicle. I declined, but only because I had no reason to leave.
I’m sure Citrus Countians will help in whatever way we can, as we always do. After what we thought Hurricane Ian was going to unleash here, Fort Myers never seemed so close.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.