This past week has been a lot of things. Exhausting to be sure, but also exhilarating, heart-warming, frustrating and reassuring. It’s been hot, and continues to be, especially for those without power. It’s also been amazing to watch this week unfold here in Fort Myers Beach.
On Sunday, September 10th, our Island was hit with a Category 2 Hurricane, Irma. After days of warnings about the powerful storm and a wobbling storm track, Fort Myers Beach residents seemed to pay more attention to this storm than any in the past. It arrived just weeks after Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston, Texas, so everyone was aware of the power of a hurricane. With a storm track that would take in most of the state, this got the attention of just about everyone in the Sunshine State.
When the talk turned to storm surge, and a new warning system used by the National Hurricane Center, those of us sitting at 6-10 feet of elevation sat up and paid attention. And many of us left the island when a mandatory evacuation was ordered. Good for us!
Had this storm delivered the winds and storm surge that were predicted, our island would not look like it does today. Luckily the Cat 4 storm came ashore at Marco Island and tracked inland rather than just off the coast. While not a good deal for Marco Island, it was for Fort Myers Beach.
The beach did get some strong winds, gusting to 130 mph, by one report. They were strong enough to take down numerous trees, uprooting a number of pretty large trees also. Structural damage seems to be limited, and that is something for all of us to be thankful for.
The phrase of the week was, ‘not as bad as I feared it would be.’
The Island has been without power, with poor or no phone service for almost a week now. We could have an Island full of angry, hot, tired people. But we don’t. Well for the most part we don’t. We know tempers can rise with the thermometer sometimes. Mostly, we have an Island full of grateful people. Grateful that it wasn’t as bad as we feared it would be. Grateful for the help of our neighbors. Grateful for the outpouring of concern from friends, colleagues and acquaintances located all over the world. Grateful for the unflagging, dedicates service of our public safety agencies and first responders.
This storm had captured everyone’s attention it seems and when it zeroed in on SWFL, all of our phones started ringing. Emails, texts, social media…Are you OK? Do you need anything? How can I help? The words of a caring friend or family member that help to ease the burden of post hurricane recovery just by being uttered.
Here on the Island, there’s been a major outbreak of community. We’ve always been a community, of course, but not necessarily a united one. This week has brought us all together, first in fear of what the storm might do to the place we all love so much, then in relief that we avoided the worst case scenario, and finally in banding together to take care of each other. “Do you have power?” “Do you need anything?”
Neighbors bringing ice and water to each other. The question late this week has been, “Do you have power yet?” As we stretch into day 5 & 6 without power, those with it are anxious to share what they can, be it air conditioning or ice or Wi-Fi.
Any lines of division are absent today. This is not the resident’s Island or the businesses’ Island or the Snowbird’s Island.
This is our Island. All of us, together. That feeling we all had this week – that’s community. Let’s hang onto it!
Your Community Paper
The Island Sand Paper is your community newspaper. That was never more evident than this week. The Sand Paper crew planned before the storm arrived how to make sure that the Sand Paper would come out on Friday morning as it has every Friday for 17 years. Technology certainly makes it easier (when it’s working), but the dedication of the whole Sand Paper crew is what made this week’s issue possible.
Following Sunday’s storm the Sand Paper decided that Islanders would want to know what was going on long before our Friday issue and we began gathering and relaying official information via our Facebook page in daily or twice a day posts. We took dozens of photos to show what our Island looked like post-Irma. We followed all the official channels for information that Islanders would need and relayed it to them.
Gathering accurate information and conveying it to readers is why we exist. Sometimes that process is easier than others. This week, we chased power, cell signal strength and Wi-Fi all over SWFL to find locations where we could work. It was a challenging week, to say the least, but all worth it if we’ve kept our readers informed during this difficult week. And we’re not done. We will continue to keep Islanders informed as our Island recovers, which it is already doing at a rapid pace.
After this challenging week, we want to thank the entire Sand Paper crew for service above and beyond – Mark List, Gary Mooney, Sandy Sandness, Don Block, Sarah List and M. Buster – the Sand Paper crew that makes each week’s issue possible — you’re the best!
Bob and Missy Layfield