Return to Sanibel and the Aftermath of Ian

This post is the third in a four-part series of reflections on how Hurricane Ian affected me and my perspective on life. For readers of my blog eager to hear more of a defense of processed food, scroll down to the bottom of the page for a reflection on foods. Last week I described the countdown to Ian and our flight out of state. This week I focus on what we found when we got back to Sanibel.    

Governor’s Promise. Governor DeSantis promised that we would have a functioning causeway by November 1. Even his supporters were skeptical.  Many residents were able to travel to the island by boat at exorbitant rates. A curfew was imposed on visitors between 7PM and 7AM. We were fortunate to have a neighbor who served as a volunteer on the island. He kept us informed about the situation on the island. Order was established on Sanibel by the presence of the National Guard. Before the causeway was rebuilt the National Guard was pulled out. Reports of looting and other nefarious acts came out. The social media site, Nextdoor, revealed stark divisions between Sanibelians. Few issues were harsher than those between year-round residents who had lost their only homes and the snowbirds who live on the island during the winter months and go back to their homes up North.

Scheduled visit. To our surprise the Governor came through opening the makeshift causeway to residents on October 19! Photos sent to us taken of the inside of our home were not encouraging. My neighbor hooked me up with a contractor who could clean out the house. We had filed a claim with our flood insurer. The flood adjuster suggested that we go through the house on Saturday, October 22. Before we could go, we needed to fill out a complete list of contents in the house. It was a major task. We did not have receipts for most of our possessions. Do you? We did have the receipt of some of what we bought during our renovation and the total cost. Maybe that would help the insurer determine our settlement. Maybe not.

Trip back to Sebring. We did not take as leisurely a trip back to Florida as we took coming up after the hurricane. Our travel down I-26, I-95, I-4, and US-301 exhausted us. Travelling around Savannah and Jacksonville was not as challenging as mastering Atlanta traffic, but playing tag with trailer homes contributed to our fatigue. Despite all the travails since Ian’s landfall, no harsh words had passed between us. That hiatus came to an end in the Ocala La Qunita. The words resulted from my insistence on checking my phone messages instead of paying more attention to my travelling companions.

The next morning it was on to Sebring, our first shelter from Ian. On our way we passed through The Villages, known for its size, golf carts, and political persuasion. We had tried to make reservations for Sebring on Saturday night, but there was no room at the inn. Fortunately, when we arrived in Sebring, the hotel was able to book a room for our entire stay. Otherwise we would need to spend Saturday night in Deerfield Beach on the Atlantic coast. That switch saved us numerous miles and much time on the road.

Muck in the driveway, garage door damaged, trees fallen in the yard
Our first view of the house when we returned

Saturday, October 22. We learned that there was a bicycle race on the weekend which was why  availability in Sebring Saturday night was tense. As it was, we had a 100-mile, 2-hour commute to Sanibel that morning. We had no trouble traversing the makeshift causeway. We arrived at our house at almost the same time as our flood adjuster and his supervisor. Before going into the house, we donned our N-95 masks, rubber boots, and leather gloves. The yard was a mess and the house did not look good. A grey slippery muck covered our beautiful terrazzo floors. The surge had come to within 3 inches from the ceiling. Concerns were raised about the dangers of Vibrio vunificus causing serious infections  by entering the body through cuts and scratches.

Furniture inside the house had floated with the surge, migrated across the rooms, and landed back in different places. The odor was bad; the muck worse. As he was leaving the adjuster suggested that we request an Advanced Payment of $30,000 to take care of cleaning out the house, taking out all the walls and ceilings, and remediating the wood.

Damage to kitchen with furniture junking up the floor and window and the oven door opened
Our remodeled kitchen took a hit

The clothes, furniture, appliances, “dry” foods, tools, cabinets and everything else in the house had been submerged. The kidney-shaped pool in the back was black, foul, and disgusting. A dead turtle or terrapin floated in the dark water. Despite the bad news, there was some good news. We recovered about 70 tee-shirts in my food-themed collection. My recent addition—Satriale’s pork store—didn’t make it, but many of my favorites did.

Sunday, October 23. We needed a day off. We stayed in Sebring that day and did some laundry. We went to the nearest supermarket and bought a rotisserie chicken; bag of fresh carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower; and a bottle of ranch dressing. The day functioned as an emotional time-out. We went to bed early in anticipation of tomorrow.

Furniture and other items on the street awaiting pickup
Our possessions out of the house and piled on the street

Monday, October 24. The next morning it was the same two-hour commute back to Sanibel. The first order of business was to pay half the estimated cost to clean out the house and take it back to the studs. I connected with the branch of my bank closest to the island to wire the money to the (de)construction company to start their work. We also sent off our request for Advanced Payment. Then we went back to the house and Sanibel. The work crew had already started cleaning out the debris from our home.

Chairs, pillows and other furniture awaiting pickup
More of our household debris on the street

Tuesday, October 25. Another day another trip back to Sanibel. Before traversing the causeway, we did some banking business in Fort Myers. I went through the house with the FEMA inspector who was very thorough in looking at damage inside and outside the house. By this time the walls and ceilings were down. Two men were destroying the bathtub and two-week old toilet in the hall bathroom. When all we could see were the studs that outlined the walls, the house looked so much smaller.

House with all the walls and ceilings removed leaving the internal wood skeletonn
Our beautiful home down to four walls and the the studs

After leaving the island, we went by one of the libraries that was accepting library books for Lee County. They were not open, so I put the books back in the car. In a different part of the building early voting was going on. I learned later that we would have been able to vote in the midterms at any location in the county, but by the time I got the message we were back in South Carolina. It was the first time in 30 years, that I did not get to vote. At that time we were in Australia and did not request absentee ballots in time.

Wednesday, October 26. We did not go back to Sanibel the next day. We have not been back to the island since. We may never go back again. We were physically and emotionally drained! We took another day off. We thought we had paid for Wednesday night, but we had not. Fortunately, they had a room for us. We bought a few more groceries and finished off the veggies that were beginning to show their age. Modified atmosphere packaging only protects fresh vegetables before the bag is opened.

Thursday and Friday, October 27 & 28. We were ready to depart Southwest Florida and return to Spartanburg. We skipped The Villages and traveled on the Florida Turnpike. Turns out the turnpike goes under a bridge for golf carts in The Villages. That place is huge! We also encountered a brutal rainstorm along the way. We stopped in Macon to visit friends and do some banking business. Then it was back to South Carolina. We were impressed with the number of trucks on I-75 and I-85 trying to keep the overworked supply chains going. In the 32 days from the day before Ian to our return to our in-law apartment, we spent 14 nights in La Quinta hotels. Living in an apartment and not on the road is so much better that staying in hotels. The ‘free’ breakfasts featuring similar items get very old, very fast.

What we lost. Looking back on the past two months, it is easy to list everything we lost including:

  • our car,
  • our home,
  • our pool,
  • almost all our possessions,
  • a job,
  • a church,
  • the beach a short walk away,
  • wonderful flat bike trails,
  • fellowship at the food pantry,
  • one-on-one time with close friends,
  • cocktail hours next door at 4PM on Sunday, and
  • organic veggie boxes.

What we still have. Despite these losses, we have many blessings to include:

  • each other,
  • Sweetie,
  • family and friends who stepped up to help,
  • a few new friends,
  • our physical health,
  • our emotional stability on most days,
  • lots of food-themed tee-shirts,
  • clothes contributed from family and friends, and
  • our savings.

Insurance update and finances. Dealing with insurance is a difficult task. The flood adjuster was reasonably easy to deal with. Despite following up on his suggestion, though, we have not yet seen our $30,000 check for flood damage, six weeks after we sent in the request. Meanwhile I needed to scrape up an additional of $17,250 to pay the contractor who cleaned up and remediated the house. Our yard crew cleaned up the yard including the fallen trees before the wind adjuster could see the damage. I learned about the settlement on wind this past weekend, but it is very confusing as to how much we will receive. They are expecting that I will rebuild, but that is not going to happen. I am not sure I will receive any money from them without rebuilding. Very confusing; very frustrating. No word as of yet when we will hear on our settlement for flood damage. It should be a big check, but who knows?

Thoughts on food. Life on the road is difficult when it comes to food. Even a fast-food lover can get tired of fast food. Our dietary pattern has has shifted. We generally have breakfast cereal with milk in the morning and eat our main meal of the day about 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon. We may have a snack or two in the evening but no meal. I now down a single beer most evenings, which represents a doubling of alcohol consumption from before Ian. At my current location I don’t have a full kitchen.

My oven is a conventional application within a microwave oven. I have not become accustomed to using it as a conventional oven. Both times I used it I burned my hand pulling out the dish. I also find that I am not cooking meals but cooking food with maybe one meat and one vegetable or maybe a bag of chips. The most complex meal I have fixed to date is Italian sausage, pepper, and onions. We still eat out two or three times a week. I have found a new favorite food. I substitute pesto on my gluten-free crust for tomato sauce at the local pizza place. Toppings include mozzarella and chunks of Italian sausage.

NEXT WEEK: Homeless, climate refugees



12 thoughts on “Return to Sanibel and the Aftermath of Ian

  1. You never realize the toll things take on you, even your eating habits, and all the little things involved on top of the obvious catastrophic ones. Glad you both are safe, and hope that you are able to return to Sanibel to make new, better memories.


    1. All so true, Deb. At this point we are not interested in returning. That may change. I don’t even want to be within 50 miles of a coast. More sad than bitter. Sanibel meant so much to us. So did the church. We are mending, slowly but mending nonetheless.


  2. I am happy that the three of you are safe. Sorry and sad to see the devastation and loss of property and valuables. Where do you plan to settle down? Lmk, if I can be of any help!


  3. I am sorry you lost your home, I am grateful you, your wife, and Sweetie are safe and have each other. If you send a list of the shirts lost, I know some friends who will search diligently to help you replace them. Additionally, if there is anything I can do to help in any way PM me on FB and I will send you direct contact information and happily help.


    1. WOW! What an offer! I am happy that I was able to save most of them. I really don’t know which ones I am missing. I will treasure the ones I have. I am not sure that wearing food tee-shirts will be appreciated by my peers like they were by my students. I loved teaching, but most of all I loved getting students to think and consider alternative visions. Wishing you the best, Dr. S.


      1. Hi Kitty, I never anticipated that I would lose any of them. I put about 15-20 in my dresser and wore a different one each day. They were great in the classroom and in a beach community. The others I stored under my bed in plastic containers that could be sealed. As Joni Mitchell told us “Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” Rob


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