ENGLEWOOD, Florida — Stunned Treasure Coast residents have begun the daunting task of cleaning up and rebuilding following the devastating passage of Hurricane Ian.
The storm's eye blasted ashore Wednesday along this low-lying coastal area between Sarasota and Fort Myers that's popular with retirees for its low-cost housing and typically balmy weather. Mobile home parks sit next to million-dollar houses.
“It’s just so sad to see everything broken. I knew it was going to be bad but this made me cry a bit," said Jayme McDonald, 42, a nurse who worked through the storm and returned home after the worst had passed. Friday morning, McDonald and her neighbor Rachel Allen walked their dogs through their partially flooded neighborhood off Old Englewood Boulevard.
Allen, 34, owns a cleaning business and stayed home during the storm, which nearly shook their house apart. Their living room flooded, and her husband has already begun tearing out the flooring and walls, hoping to prevent the growth of black mold in late-summer humidity.
“We’re waiting to get ahold of the insurance company. But cell service is just so spotty so it’s just kind of wait and see," she said.
A few blocks away, Kevin Pruett, 42, surveyed the massive pine tree that had collapsed across the yard of his single-story home. Pruett regretted not evacuating and worries how long it will take to restore electricity and running water. People are already scrounging for drinking water and searching in vain for gas, and in some cases dipping water from retention ponds to flush their toilets.
“You’re talking weeks or months to get electric," Pruett said. "There’s not enough materials or workers in the world to get it done faster.”
As of Friday morning, about 1.9 million customers in Florida were without power, officials said.
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Like many residents who rode out the storm, Pruett said he believes it will have forever altered the area's social fabric. All around him, mobile homes have been tipped on their sides, steel street signs folded over like paper. More than a foot of water — with two alligators, officials said — blocks one of the main roads.
“It looks like a war zone. It feels like we’re in Ukraine. It’s sickening. It will take months to recover, years," said Don Brockley, 76, who has lived in the area off and on for 20 years. “For old people, it’s going to be hard. This was considered a once-in-a-lifetime hurricane.”
Brockley and dozens of others waited outside a Lowe's home improvement store early Friday, trading rumors of whether there were generators or plywood in stock.
Bill Fairbairn, 63, hoped to buy tarps to cover a gap where his carport tore away from his mobile home, exposing the room to the outside. Fairbairn moved to Florida from upstate New York a year ago to escape the snow and cold.
"It’s been great right up until yesterday," he laughed. "I’m one of the few luckier ones. For some people, it blew the walls out, and some places just collapsed. At least mine is still standing.”
Sitting on the front patio of his home at the Florida Pines Mobile Home Court, Monty Covert puffed a cigarette and waited for his brother-in-law to return with beer. Asking the time — 7:15 a.m. — Covert good-naturedly complained the liquor store should have opened 15 minutes earlier.
Covert is retired Navy, sailing the world on a tugboat. He credits his military service with his ability to adapt to the drastically changed neighborhood and his somewhat fatalistic approach to life. Covert had planned to evacuate but early-arriving winds knocked down trees on either side of the driveway, blocking his escape. He slept through the storm.
“I said I’ll either get up alive or not at all," Covert said. "And then it got to be daylight and yeah, you always see it on TV and think things like this aren’t going to happen to you. And then it does.”
Covert said the only damage his home suffered was the loss of the porch's metal roofing, crediting the mobile home with being built of stronger materials five decades ago. For him, the worst damage came after he decided to drive his truck through the storm surge to check on his former wife. He got stuck in the deep water, he said, and because he can't walk well, good Samaritans had to carry him to safety 300 yards away.
He now regrets going to check on her.And he's wondering whether to repair the damage or collect an insurance check.
“Do you rebuild or do you just condemn the place and move on?” he asked, stubbing out his cigarette.
A little later in the morning, Pruett once again looked at the damage — from the submerged cars to the downed power lines and the trees laying across roads and yards and driveways.
Pruett said he normally splits his time between landscaping and crypto mining, but with the power out, he's going to be spending less time at the computer in the coming days.
“It’s time to get the chainsaw rocking."
More coverage of Hurricane Ian
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Englewood, Florida a 'war zone' after Ian's wrath. The cleanup begins.