After Hurricane Ian, a former Topekan learned the fate of the boat on which he lived

Randall Listrom awoke on a soggy Thursday morning in his SUV at a Florida truck stop parking lot, ready to go find out what happened to the boat he'd left anchored in the path of Hurricane Ian.

Listrom, a Topeka native, has lived since January 2021 along the Florida Gulf Coast in Thin Blue Line, a slow-moving fishing trawler that runs on diesel fuel, has no sails and is 35 feet long at its water line. He likes living on a boat.

Amid calm seas and 77-degree temperatures, the retired Topeka police officer took a stunning photo of the sunset Monday evening from his boat, anchored about 1,000 feet off shore in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda, Florida.

About 30 other people lived on their boats in the same area, he said.

But with the huge hurricane approaching, the 67-year-old Listrom loaded his SUV on Tuesday with as many possessions as he could, reinforced Thin Blue Line's anchoring system, bid farewell to his beloved trawler and drove inland.

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Listrom couldn't find any available motel rooms, so he rode out the storm in his SUV.

He kept up with hurricane news on his Ipad while spending Tuesday night in a truck stop parking lot at Fort Pierce along Florida's Atlantic coast and Wednesday night in a truck stop lot at Gainesville in north-central Florida.

At both truck stops, pretty much all the parking spaces were full, he said.

Then, on Thursday morning, Listrom began the roughly 225-mile trip back to Punta Gorda in southwest Florida.

'We'll just have to wait and see'

As he drove south on Interstate 75, Listrom answered a cell phone call from a Capital-Journal reporter.

A lot of other vehicles were using that highway, he said.

Listrom said soon after the hurricane hit Punta Gorda on Wednesday, he saw an image on the Accuweather website that appeared to show his boat, which seemed to be OK at that time.

"I have a couple people looking for my boat now," he said. "They haven't reported back to me yet. We'll just have to wait and see what the results are."

Listrom said electrical power was out in the Punta Gorda area, and police apparently weren't letting people in because it wasn't safe, with trees and electrical lines still covering the roadway.

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'There's another limb I've got to avoid'

Listrom filled his SUV with gasoline Thursday morning at Tampa, about 100 miles north of Punta Gorda. Power was out in Punta Gorda and gas stations need power to operate unless they have electrical generators.

Listrom didn't see any hurricane damage at Tampa.

But as he neared Bradenton, Florida, about 65 miles north of Punta Gorda, he said he was starting to see a lot of uprooted trees in residential neighborhoods off the highway, and a lot of tree parts on the highway.

"There's another limb I've got to avoid," he said.

As Listrom continued to drive south, he said he was beginning to see "a lot of flooding on the side of the highway," with cars submerged in the flooded areas.

'Pretty much destroyed'

Listrom was near Sarasota, Florida, about 55 miles north of Punta Gorda, when he called The Capital-Journal late Thursday morning to report he'd been told Thin Blue Line had been "pretty much destroyed."

The trawler sank in about eight feet of water, with only the top part remaining visible, he said.

Listrom sent a subsequent text message featuring a photo of what still could be seen of his boat.

"It is with sadness that I report Thin Blue Line has been located," he said in a Facebook post. "She put up a valiant fight and drug anchor 900 yards before sinking 100 yards short of shore in about 10 feet of water. Ian won the battle."

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'There were limits to what I could take'

Listrom arrived Thursday afternoon in Punta Gorda and had no problem getting into the city, which 2020 census records show has a population of 19,471.

Listrom said Thin Blue Line still has some value but will clearly be declared a total loss by the insurance company.

"The interior is all inundated with water now, so they'd have to replace carpet, furniture, the refrigerator, stove and cabinetry," he said.

Thin Blue Line is fully insured for any storm damage it might sustain, though the policy involved only allows for Listrom to recover 80% of the losses from a named storm, such as Ian, he said.

Not all of the boat is under water, so Listrom said a few of its components might be salvageable, including some electronics.

But he said he'd lost his retirement watch, his awards, all his memorabilia and probably 75% of his clothes.

"It's like when a tornado comes though," he said. "Even though I had enough warning to get some stuff off the boat, there were limits to what I could take."

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'A lot of those trees are just gone now'

Listrom said storm surge from the hurricane wasn't a serious problem at Punta Gorda, though the community clearly experienced high winds, he said.

That was particularly noticeable in the area near Charlotte Harbor, which was formerly adorned by lines of beautiful trees, Listrom said.

"A lot of those trees are just gone now," he said.

Otherwise, Listrom said, "Punta Gorda came through OK."

Probably 25% of the city's trees were down, as were all street signs and advertising signs, he said.

But except for damage to a few rooftops, the city's buildings appeared to have successfully weathered the storm, Listrom said.

"Once you get outside the city, to the areas where they don't have building codes in effect, then you begin to see the structural damage to buildings," he said.

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'The Waffle House is open'

Food, water and fuel were hard to come by Friday in Punta Gorda, Listrom said.

"You're not going to believe this, but the Waffle House is open," he added. "That's how they gauge how bad a hurricane is, by how quickly the Waffle House gets back up."

Punta Gorda's Publix grocery store was also back open, Listrom said, expressing surprise that both businesses were operating even though the city lacked electrical power.

'We've got other issues to deal with'

Listrom said he spent Thursday night in a fifth-wheel trailer owned by a friend who lives near Punta Gorda and was temporarily out of state.

Listrom, who was in charge of emergency management for Topeka police when he retired from that department in 2005, was seeking Friday to offer his services to aid police in Punta Gorda.

He said he stopped by the police department to volunteer his services, and found it was closed.

"It's always a bad sign when the police department is closed," Listrom joked.

He said his best guess was that the department had relocated to an emergency management center at a Charlotte County Sheriff's Office substations, so he planned to look into that.

In terms of deciding where life will take him next, Listrom said he "hasn't really crossed that bridge."

He said he'd probably buy another boat, most likely a sailboat, and live on it at Charlotte Harbor.

"But we've got other issues to deal with now, so we'll get those dealt with first," he said.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 213-5934 or threnchir@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: After Hurricane Ian, former Topekan learns boat he lived in sank