Chamber Fields Irma Inquiries

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200 Questions

“The Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce had already fielded roughly 200 calls by Wednesday, September 13, in the wake of Hurricane Irma,” said Executive Director Jacki Liszak. “In every single one that is not from a beach homeowner, we ask them to please keep their vacation plans and come down here and spend their money please when all our businesses are open, because we are going to need your support more than ever!”

Even with the Chamber Office closed due to the lack of power, Jacki arranged for the telephone system to reroute through her cell, so she is taking and returning all calls. “We are getting questions from all over, like Illinois and Michigan and Ohio and Texas. Sometimes we are their primary call, and on others they are reaching out to us because they cannot reach anyone else.”

The largest group “are those who have immediate reservations, even for this upcoming weekend,” Jacki relates. “They are just not sure what to do, because they are unable to get through to their hotels. While we have not yet heard from anyone with Christmas plans, we have had several questions about events as far off as the American Sand Sculpting Championship around Thanksgiving, so it is a broad spectrum.”

It is not just prospective visitors, however, who are calling, but also out-of-state residents either at their seasonal homes or those who evacuated for Hurricane Irma. “If I am the only person they can reach, I am literally getting in my car, driving to their home, taking photographs of all four sides, and texting them back so they can see any damage. Fortunately, I have yet to break any really bad news to anyone, as most houses have little to no damage. We are very fortunate!”

She is thrilled not only by the overall condition of the island, “but I can’t believe so much of the beach is regaining power so quick, and reentry restrictions were done within the first day and the curfew after a few nights. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the power crews from Florida and all over the nation, who are doing a fantastic job night and day!”

Anchors Away

Jacki says her most unusual request came from members of the United States Coast Guard who are temporarily in our area. “A couple of the guys need accommodations, so if you can help house them while they are helping us, please call the Chamber. The most touching ones are from people who don’t want to know about their homes or vacation plans, but those who interacted with us in the past and just want to know we are OK.”

One drawback she notes are the inquiries from island residents who had no idea they needed a re-entry pass to the Town, had restrictions lasted longer than last Monday. “Fort Myers Beach citizens who lived here for 10 years or longer had no idea, and that is crazy, so we need to do a better job in getting the word out about that. Ten years may seem like a long time, but Wilma was 12 years ago now, and Charley 13, and we have a lot of new residents since then, so this was their first hurricane.”

Jacki reports that the Chamber Office will not reopen until Monday, September 18, “because we are not a critical operation right now. We are answering and returning all calls, and can handle immediate business in an efficient fashion.” The Chamber, however, will most likely postpone all its major September events, including the Lagerhead Cycleboats ribbon-cutting for Tuesday; September 19, the Business After Hours on Thursday, September 21; and the TAPA HOP on Tuesday, September 26. To confirm any of these, contact the Chamber at 239-454-7500, see its website at www.fortmyersbeach.org or FaceBook at www.facebook.com/FMBChamber.

“Personally, I am so grateful I still have a house to come home to tonight,” Jacki offered. “I thought for sure last Saturday I would be trying to pick up all my belongings from way down the middle of the street! We only had a little damage, and our business, The Sea Gypsy Inn, seems fine from the outside, though we won’t be able to give it a thorough inspection inside until the restoration of power.”

She is so impressed by how many people she sees helping each other out. “I notice in particular Joe Orlandini, who seems to be everywhere, assisting folks with sandbags and putting up screens or taking down shutters to being there for those who need to move. It is marvelous seeing friends helping friends, neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers helping strangers but, of course, that is the kind of community we are on Fort Myers Beach!”

 

Gary Mooney