Total disbelief – Hurricane damage a terrible sight to behold

An image of the hurricane damage in the Ft. Myers, Florida, area.

By Jeff Meyer

Editor’s note: Jeff and Julie Meyer endured the onslaught of Hurricane Ian in Florida. Longtime publishers of the Pelican Rapids Press, the Meyers own and operate the Stillwater Grill in the Ft. Myers area. Jeff wrote this column as an update to the Meyers’ many friends and associates in the Pelican Rapids area. 

Both Julie and I feel fortunate to have grown up in Minnesota, but we wanted to go on an adventure and move to Florida almost ten years ago. This adventure has been quite the ride, especially since September 28, 2022.

We have not had the chance to personally experience a hurricane. We did live in Florida when Hurricane Irma hit our area five years ago, but we were in Minnesota during that storm.

Well, this time was a little different. Julie wanted to celebrate a special birthday on September 24th, so we made reservations on a barrier island called Indian Rocks Beach, just outside of Tampa. Knowing the storm was getting closer and going to be a direct hit in the Tampa area, our little vacation was over. 

So we headed back to Cape Coral, where it would be safe.

Jeff and Julie Meyer

In an instant, the storm made a quick turn and was headed right towards the Ft. Myers area, a direct hit on us. I wanted to stay at our home and ride it out, but the wiser one said no. “She’s smart .” We hurried and hunkered everything down at the house. Brought everything in from our outside deck area, tied the boat down, packed up all important papers, and moved things up off the floor just in case the house got flooded. And we headed for higher ground away from the water.

We are fortunate to have our son Jason’s future in-laws, that live on the other side of Ft. Myers and away from the water, offer for us to stay at their house. Along with 14 other people, seven dogs and three cats, we lived there for four days. They have been through multiple hurricanes and have their home wired in with a large generator that provided lights, air, showers…we were very thankful for that.

We watched in awe as the wind blew and ripped screens, shingles, trees, and fences to shreds. The winds blew up to 150 mph late into the night. We woke the next morning to a war zone. 

We were very anxious to check on our home, so we buckled in and headed down the road. With no stop lights working and traffic backed up, a typically 35-minute drive took two hours. So we were patient and finally made it home. 

As we were driving along, we saw trailer houses ripped to shreds, signs all over the place, trees blocking the roads, buildings demolished. We were in total disbelief that this had just happened. As we got closer to our house, there were power poles snapped in half; if they weren’t snapped, they were leaning against a house or across the road. As we zig-zagged to get to our house, we could see it was still standing. The roof was still there, with no broken windows and no water in the house. What a relief.

As we pulled in, our neighbors were picking up the shingles that probably came from a mile away. We are blessed to have great neighbors. We assessed the damage to our home, and it was minor compared to most. We had shingles blown off, screens gone, trees leaning against our house, banged-up gutters, boat dock mangled, and debris all over the place. But all replaceable. I look around at some of the houses in the neighborhood, screen porches destroyed, roofs with more damaged than ours, boats displaced, and I think to myself, “did this really happen?”

But nothing compared to Fort Myers beach, Sanibel Island and Matlacha. Total devastation. 

We continued to pick up tree branches, shingles, and an occasional mailbox lying in our yard, but now it was time to go check on our restaurant, Stillwater Grille. As we left our house, it was slow moving again, still no stoplights. We found boats on the road, boats flipped over in pools, and buildings destroyed or gone as we continued to drive. We were getting closer to the restaurant; trees were all over the place, power lines were down. 

Finally at the restaurant, we discovered our very famous tree (a Rubber Tree that is over 100 years old) that shades our outside patio was still standing, pretty beat up but standing. Our outside area was a disaster. Water was inches from coming into the restaurant, but we were fortunate we were spared from that. We did receive some damage to some of the equipment on our roof. Our kitchen hoods were gone, one a/c unit was toast, and our direct tv satellite was broadcasting someplace else. Unfortunately, we lost all of our food at the restaurant due to no power.

And then the aftermath…No gas, no electricity, spotty cell service…I remember getting a text from my sister, “Now that I know you’re ok I can sleep.”

It really was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Julie said, “it was like a tornado on steroids.” The hurricane lasted for several hours.

The next few days, we continued to clean up and put things back in order.

Finally, on day four, a great friend “Barney” brought a generator back from Fort Lauderdale, where he had evacuated, and we were able to get that hooked up and move back to our home. We had no a/c, just fans and lights, cold showers in the morning, but all was good. Eleven days without power, yet more fortunate than most. And for now, our dear friend Barney is staying with us because his house was destroyed.

The restaurant got power back after four days. We were able to bring in a few menu items, and we opened the next day. People needed a place to unwind and have a hot meal. 

People were so thankful for our limited menu and cold beer. Jason, our son, is a server at the restaurant, and he asked me, “Why does it take a destruction or a holiday to make people so nice.” I just smiled and said, “Thank goodness were were able to be open so people have a place to go and relax and take a break.”

We were on a water boil notice, and we couldn’t make ice, and ice was hard to come by the first few days, so we told our guests “BOYI” (bring your own ice)…and they did. We finally got ice and 30 cases of water, and we were set. Every day our limited menu was getting back to normal.

Still debris everywhere, but stop lights are working, gas is flowing, and no water boil notice anymore. As we rebuild one day at a time, I believe we will be a stronger community.

Please pray for all those who lost their homes and loved ones. 

– Jeff & Julie Meyer