Amelia Cite, her husband and their four children rode out Hurricane Ian in the family’s mobile home with other family members, including Cite’s two sisters and their children.
“It was scary,” she said through volunteer interpreter Leonardo Felipe, a Fort Myers native and student at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The Category 4 storm that struck the southwest coast of Florida caused minor damage to her home, but her neighbor’s house was destroyed, Cite said.
The hurricane also cut off the one route to the mainland when the bridge from Pine Island to Matlacha was damaged, leaving residents isolated.
A temporary fix: Pine Island road access restored with temporary bridge after Ian
The first few days were hard, Cite said. The family had very little food, no electricity or running water.
It’s better now, she said, since volunteer rescue workers are bringing food and supplies to her neighborhood at The Palms, a mobile home park on Stringfellow Road.
“We are feeling relieved,” Cite said. “We have enough to survive, and we are grateful for it.”
Because Cite and others living at The Palms spoke little to no English, volunteer interpreters were important in the relief effort.
Kinsey Morgan said when she was trying to give aid to injured chickens, some of the people who didn’t speak English were worried she was going to take the chickens from them.
“I was trying to tell them I want to help them,” she said. “I’m not trying to take them.”
Lonelli Francisco was able to evacuate before the storm, but she came back to her home on the island as soon as she could. She and her family of seven lost much of their roof but are grateful to have each other.
“Things are getting better, now that people are helping us and everything,” she said.
Volunteers deliver supplies and gather information
Cite and Fernando were among the many people local volunteers helped Wednesday during a trip to Pine Island.
The volunteers drove through neighborhoods delivering supplies when possible, gathering information and helping with whatever they could.
Peggy Connell, who lives in an RV in a mobile home park just off Stringfellow Road, said it made her feel good to know people care.
“Thank you for checking on me,” she said.
Down the street, one of Connell’s neighbors told volunteer and Army veteran Stephen Kantarze of Cape Coral there were looters ransacking the empty homes so they could use some security.
“No one has been out here,” the woman said.
Kantarze stopped at a National Guard post at a nearby fire station to request security checks in that area.
Emily Zercher, one of those who helped start a volunteer group to assist people on Pine Island, said she’s gotten feedback from residents there.
"We are the first people that these people have seen in five days,” one volunteer told her. “They thought no one was coming. They cried and were so happy to see us."
The volunteer efforts didn’t end there.
Earlier in the week a doctor volunteered on the island. He was able to clean and bandage wounds, hand out insulin to diabetics and take care of other medical needs for residents unable to leave the island.
Tyler Wooldridge, a volunteer from Lakeland, helped secure insulin to send to the island.
“Shoutout to my mother-in-law,” he told Zercher. “We just got $7,000 worth of insulin for the island"
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Morgan, of Cape Coral, said anyone on Wednesday who needed insulin had to go to the makeshift medical supply center since there was no medical professional available to help.
On Wednesday, Morgan brought food and water to a chained dog, left by his family. The dog had an eye infection earlier in the week.
“Someone must have been out here,” Morgan said. “His eye looks much better today.”
Other volunteers had to distract the dog for Morgan to place the food, since it was uncertain whether the dog was friendly or if it had been vaccinated.
As the group of volunteers drove around the island, Kantarze’s cellphone pinged with messages in the local volunteers’ WhatsApp group.
“Can you get the address?” Kantarze asked Morgan several times along the route.
The messages were from people who needed help or knew of people who needed help.
“We’re OK,” some would say. Others would say, “We could use some ice,” “We could use some tarps” or “We need a generator.”
They would point out other neighbors who might need a hand, so the team would visit them, too.
'We’re just trying to make a difference.'
Once a neighborhood was canvassed and the team handed out what supplies it had, they messaged back to the group what they did and what was still needed at each location.
Zercher said her group rescued or assisted 1,338 people and animals by Sunday, “the last update before we stopped counting.”
“This is what happens when you cannot wait for help to be on the way,” she said. “People come together and prove that humanity is stronger together.”
Some places, like the Pine Island KOA Holiday on Stringfellow Road, were inaccessible because of fallen power lines. Those locations were noted, too, so someone could check later if anyone was there and if they needed help.
“I’d say yesterday we probably delivered close to two tons of supplies,” Kantarze said. “As you will see, they really don’t have anything. We’re just trying to make a difference.”
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian: Wellness checks appreciated by storm-weary Pine Island residents