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An Overwhelming Drive Through Battered Southwest Florida

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to witness the damage caused by Hurricane Ina first-hand. I will never forget it. The areas in Southwest Florida hit by the record-expensive storm reminded me of a third-world country that had been hit by a tsunami. It is estimated that a surge rose as high as 13+ feet in areas that sit just a few feet above ground. Miles of beaches disappeared thanks to the surge churned up by 155 mph winds. I saw hotels devastated and of course the hurricane set back tourism in the area for many years to come. Miles and miles of mangroves are filled with debris from the storm. Huge piles of what is now trash are piled up in select spots and huge trucks with movable claws pick it up. The hope is that some of it can be recycled. Even the sand is being recovered for reuse along the coast.

According to the Florida Insider, “Prior to the start of hurricane season on June 1, 426 of the Sunshine State’s 825 miles of coastline were labeled as “critically eroded” in a June report posted by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Today, that number is of course much, much greater.

The publication Gulfshore Business says there have been 130 Hurricane Ian-related deaths in Florida, including 61 in Lee County, according to the Florida District Medical Examiners report—making it the state’s deadliest hurricane since 1935. My contact, who lives in the area hit by the storm, told me he has heard the fatality number could be 1,000. Nobody will ever know what happened to the homeless who made the area their home.

“Not only is The Ritz-Carlton, Naples not unveiling its new 14-story tower in December, as originally scheduled, but it’s not reopening until at least March after sustaining millions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Ian,” Gulfshore Business says. “Its temporary closure comes at a time during the busy season when the hotel’s revenue reaches $20 million per month. In addition to the monumental cost to rebuild the resort, it’s experiencing the loss of revenue from its restaurants, banquets and standard room rates ranging from $1,665 to more than $6,000 per night for some club-level suites.”

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is just one example of an impacted hotel.

Thousands of people reliant on tourism have lost their jobs.

According to WUSF, “Tourism before Ian generated more than $3 billion a year in Lee County alone, according to the visitor and convention bureau. Now people are struggling to salvage something of this visitor season.”

Brings Out the Good & the Bad

My contact told me companies with extra millions of dollars to spend are bribing contractors to work on their projects first. At the same time, so many people are pitching in to help the storm’s survivors.

Driving through the area of destruction, I wondered why anyone would want to rebuild in such a flood-prone area. Many will not rebuild but some will. Should they be allowed to? Expect much more stringent building codes.

In years to come, the Florida peninsula will continue to be hit by increasingly more dangerous storms over and over.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “As our climate warms, we’re experiencing stronger winds, higher storm surges and record rainfalls during hurricane season—which is also why these storms are becoming more destructive and costly.”

What can we do about this? Collectively, we must do all we can to slow and ultimately stop the warming of the planet. Everyone must pitch in.

I hope I never see the aftermath of such a severe storm again.

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