Joe Orlandini has lived in Fort Myers Beach for 20 years.
He's never weathered a storm like this, he said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
“We actually left for Charley, but I stayed for Irma," Orlandini said. “This is way worse. Irma was nothing compared to this. Absolutely nothing.”
Five years ago, forecasters warned of a catastrophic 15-foot storm surge as Hurricane Irma approached Southwest Florida. But a late shift in the storm's path reduced its destructive power, and Lee County's islands largely escaped severe damage.
With Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida hasn't been as lucky. The storm put Fort Myers directly in its path after straying eastward from initial forecasts and is currently a Category 4 hurricane. The National Hurricane Center forecasts a life-threatening 12-to-16-foot storm surge from Engelwood to Bonita Beach.
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Orlandini, a contractor and property owner, said he decided to ride out Hurricane Ian in his Palermo Circle home to protect equipment and building materials that could not be moved off-island.
“We’ve got a lot of projects right here and a lot at stake right here in this spot," he said. “We decided to stay so we could keep an eye on things.”
But the storm turned bad quickly, leaving roads impassable. Orlandini said he was driving a 50-foot forklift at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday from one of his properties when he saw a wave coming toward him from the beach. The machine could have driven through three and a half foot of water, Orlandini said — but the flooding appeared to be four feet deep.
He turned around and hunkered down at home with his wife and two children. The house is built relatively high, but he said there is 1½ feet of water flooding his ground floor, with more outside pushing against his doors.
“It’s still coming up and coming up and coming up," Orlandini said. "It’s unbelievable."
Lee County opened shelters and issued evacuation orders for evacuation zones A, B and parts of C on Monday. But officials are now urging any residents still at home to shelter in place, saying it is not safe to travel on roads.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian floods Fort Myers Beach, 'way worse' than Irma