Southwest Florida tornado: Fort Myers residents start recovery in the aftermath

·4 min read

A day after a tornado with 118 mph winds struck south Fort Myers, residents continued cleanup efforts.

"Who would think a roof would be laying in a tree like that?" said Matt Chojnaski, a 77-year-old resident at the Century 21 Mobile Home Community.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado touched down about 7:35 a.m. in the Iona area of Fort Myers, lasting five minutes and traveling 1.8 miles.

Lee County officials reported Sunday there were four injuries.

Sunday storms: Southwest Florida picks up after EF2 tornado destroys dozens of homes. Here's what we know

More on the tornadoes: Hundreds displaced from their homes

Social media: Videos show storm damage across Fort Myers, Iona, Naples and on Alligator Alley

It was the second confirmed tornado for Southwest Florida. Another tornado touched down in the Placida area of Charlotte County, causing no injuries but an estimated $500,000 in damage to 35 manufactured homes.

Weather officials were still surveying the damage in Collier County on Monday where at least two other possible tornados were spotted..

In Fort Myers, three separate mobile home parks were hit: Tropicana, Century 21 and Point Breeze. There was minor damage reported in other nearby residential communities, such as Gulf Harbour, Kelly Greens and McGregor Woods.

In all, Lee County officials estimated the damage at $1.1 million. They said 108 mobile homes were damaged, half had major damage. Thirty mobile homes were destroyed.

Mobile homes flattened

Chojnaski, like many of the residents and volunteers, was surveying the area to assess the destruction.

Many mobile homes to the left of the entrance were destroyed.

According to Chojnaski, the clubhouse building in the park, where residents would gather for activities, had major interior damage.

"This will never go back to normal, they're going to have to destroy these and haul them out of here," Chojnaski said.

He's been a resident of the park for 10 years, and he was lucky enough to not have any damage to his home, though he still didn't have power. He was among 423 customers without power Monday, according to FPL. Collier and Charlotte still had a handful without power too.

Another resident, Mary Davis, 58, is thankful to be OK despite her home suffering damage.

"The community is why we're here," Davis said. "Everybody has been amazing."

She worried that insurance wasn't getting back to them and several of the other residents because of the poor timing with the holiday weekend.

"The problem is insurance. I'm concerned about the people that really need the insurance companies right now and they're sitting in their warm beds," Davis said. "We are on national TV saying how horrific this is, and they're in their warm beds and they're not even answering phones."

The county opened a shelter at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center but a volunteer interviewed there on Monday morning was packing up and said no one came to the shelter.

Bob Carrigan retrieves belongings on Monday from a home he rented at Century 21 Mobile Home Park  in Fort Myers. A tornado hit the Iona area in Fort Myers on Sunday.
Bob Carrigan retrieves belongings on Monday from a home he rented at Century 21 Mobile Home Park in Fort Myers. A tornado hit the Iona area in Fort Myers on Sunday.

Betsy Clayton, communication director of Lee County Government, confirmed the closing.

The Red Cross is now offering help to people impacted by the tornado via its 1-800 line. People can visit the website to obtain that number and a link to the Red Cross as well as other information.

Residents should not drop off donation supplies at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center, Clayton said, but the community is asking for monetary donations instead on the Red Cross website. Click on the link to make a monetary donation.

Like many others in Fort Myers, Bob Carrigan was in clean-up mode after a tornado touched down in the Iona neighborhood, destroying several homes.
Like many others in Fort Myers, Bob Carrigan was in clean-up mode after a tornado touched down in the Iona neighborhood, destroying several homes.

Agencies in action

Scott Reed, 70, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, and his wife, Sheila, 71, came to help out the people at the park while on vacation from St. Louis, Missouri.

"You have the power company out here, you have the owner, you have Red Cross here, and all the other Lee County agencies all trying their best to get these people back to some sort of state of normalcy," Reed said.

He mentioned that the residents have been very "resilient" as clean up is still in its preliminary phase.

"Our heart aches for these people. I mean, we're with the Red Cross and we do this, but it always hurts to come in and all you can do is lend a hand," Reed said.

Siara Campbell, communications director for the American Red Cross South Florida Region, said the organization is working to provide meals, cleanup kits, and volunteers for on-the-ground assistance.

These include:

  • 300 meals between last night and this afternoon

  • Two emergency response vehicles

  • 26 volunteers and staff from the Florida Gulf Coast to Heartland Chapter of the Red Cross helping out with on the ground assistance

Lee County role

Lee County opened a drop-off site for residents of south Fort Myers who were affected by Sunday's tornado.

It's located at 14790 A&W Bulb Road in south Fort Myers, and will reopen on Tuesday from 9 a.m.to 6 p.m. for the rest of the week and weekend.

The county asked that only the residents who were impacted bring their debris.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: EF2 tornado in Florida: Fort Myers, Naples residents in recovery mode

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting