'Snowbirds' who usually head down to Florida during the winter months came back early to see the damage of Hurricane Ian and help neighbors

Fort Myers Hurricane Ian
Fort Myers Hurricane Ian  
  • Fort Myers, Florida was one of the hardest-hit areas in Hurricane Ian's path.

  • Popular among "snowbirds" who head south for the winter months, the part-time residents came back early.

  • They arrived to see flooding and debris filling their winter paradise.

FORT MYERS, Florida - Susan Johnson, 68, rode out Hurricane Ian with her husband and some neighbors at the clubhouse in her mobile home community. She watched from the windows as neighbors' homes blew away.

On Wednesday, Ian tore through Florida's west coast and slammed the state with catastrophic winds and storm surges. Homes were swept away, boats were destroyed, and city infrastructure has been damaged, leaving nearly entire communities without power. The death toll is at least 21 as of Friday, with state officials expecting the number to rise.

Many of Johnson's neighbors are snowbirds and don't come down until October, she said, but many were now returning after the storm to help their neighbors.

In the surrounding area, traffic lights were still shot and many stores were still dark. Neighbors had piled debris in their yards and hung up clothes and other items on lines outside their homes.

"We have so many conveniences we don't realize it can all go away," Johnson said. "Sometimes you have to go back to the basics to appreciate the things we have."

Susan Johnson
Susan Johnson's home  

Had Johnson known it would be that bad, she said, she would have escaped up to the East Coast. But her own home had been all right after the storm. On Friday, she still didn't have any electricity or running water, but the home had very little damage and no flooding.

The roads to her favorite spots, including Sanibel Island, had been demolished.

Her parents, now deceased, had bought the home in 1989. Johnson had a long career as a judge in Kentucky before retiring in 2015. It had been her "retirement dream" to live here someday, she said, adding, "I'm not going anywhere."

She estimated the storm surges reached 8 feet. In other parts of the area, a 10-foot surge poured into the community, and residents were still waiting on Friday for the water to recede so they can start picking up the pieces.

"It's a peril to always have to be aware of," she said of the possibility of hurricanes in Florida. "But I never imagined it would be like this."


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