'Fort Myers Beach is gone': Waterfront workers recount Hurricane Ian devastation

For Mitch Stough and his brother Mike, Fort Myers Beach was their livelihood.

Now it’s been utterly destroyed, they said in an interview Thursday morning.

“7-Eleven’s gone. The Whale’s gone. All the restaurants are gone,” Mitch told The News-Press. “The whole entire Times Square is gone. It’s leveled.”

Fort Myers Beach, along with Lee County’s other barrier islands, took the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s assault on Florida’s coastline. The storm, a Category 4 when it made landfall, sent 150 mph winds and a towering storm surge tearing through the town’s center.

A boat sits across a roadway on San Carlos Island Thursday after Hurricane Ian made landfall.
A boat sits across a roadway on San Carlos Island Thursday after Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Mitch and Mike sheltered on the third floor of the Estero Island Beach Club, where Mike worked. From there, they had a front row view of the chaos. Waves poured over Estero Boulevard, demolishing the lower floors of buildings and carrying away vehicles, they said.

“Our car went flying,” Mitch said.

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The commercial center of the beach town was ravaged by the hurricane, he said. Mitch, who worked at the landmark Lani Kai resort, said the storm surge stripped the vacation spot's first floor to its structural elements.

“It’s just concrete pillars going up. There’s nothing there," he said. “Fort Myers Beach is gone.”

On Thursday morning, the approach to the island on San Carlos Boulevard was a scene of escalating destruction.

A couple of miles out, boats could be seen thrown against road guardrails, ripped from their storage yards the previous afternoon. First one, then a pair, then more and more. Closer to the Matanzas Pass Bridge, entire marina buildings were shattered, wooden docks twisted and splintered. Sheriff’s deputies blocked access to Estero Island, saying the bridge was unsafe to cross.

The Stough brothers spoke to The News-Press after walking across the bridge from Estero Boulevard to their home neighborhood on San Carlos Island.

The hurricane had wreaked havoc there, too. Rows of houses had been savaged by winds and water, shingles stripped, windows shattered. A boat blocked the middle of the road, dragged out of a driveway by the storm. Residents, looking shellshocked, began the monumental task of cleaning up, picking up pieces of debris from their lawns.

For Mitch and Mike, there was no coming back. Mitch said they planned to move elsewhere.

“There’s nothing here for us. Our jobs are gone. Our car’s gone. There’s nothing open,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple years to get this thing back into shape again.”

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian devastation: Fort Myers beach sees significant damage