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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Locals with ties to Southwest Florida feel Ian’s impact

    Photo taken Thursday in Port Charlotte, Fla., just north of Fort Myers. Courtesy of Jennifer Smith, former New London resident.
    Photo taken Thursday in Port Charlotte, Fla., just north of Fort Myers. Courtesy of Jennifer Smith, former New London resident.
    Photo taken Thursday in Port Charlotte, Fla., just north of Fort Myers. Courtesy of Jennifer Smith, former New London resident.

    Before invading the Carolinas, Hurricane Ian left its mark on parts of Southwest Florida, where some current and former southeastern Connecticut residents experienced the storm’s wrath.

    Speaking Friday from his home in Sarasota, Steve Becker, a former Norwich Public Utilities board member, reported that he and his wife Linda, a former city councilor, had been without power for three days and that Florida Power & Light still could not tell them when electricity would be restored.

    “It’s brutal,” Becker said of conditions.

    Winds reached 134 mph at an airport 10 miles away, he said, and in one stretch blew between 70 and 100 mph for more than seven hours straight.

    “I was looking at trees, and figured I better get away from the window,” Becker said. “Thankfully, we only lost part of the lanai roof and have a leak in the roof, but nothing critical. In Naples, it’ll be years before they get back. I have friends in Sanibel, which doesn’t exist.”

    “This is about as bad as it can get,” he said.

    (According to reports, damage to the causeway connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland had effectively cut off the island.)

    For the Beckers, who live 70 feet above sea level about eight miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the wind was a greater concern than flooding. Under the state’s evacuation plan, their area was designated Zone D, Becker said. Zones A and B were evacuated and it was recommended that those in Zone C also leave. No such orders were given for Zone D.

    The Beckers found a restaurant open for the first time in days Friday morning, joining 150 other people in line. Grocery stores and gas stations had been closed, too. A licensed real estate broker with Pequot Commercial in East Lyme, Becker said he’s been in contact with Norwich friends since the storm broke and has heard from Mayor Peter Nystrom.

    In Tampa, some 60 miles north of Sarasota, Jennifer Smith and her family escaped Ian’s full force.

    Smith, who was born and raised in New London, said news reports in the days before the storm struck indicated it was coming directly at Tampa, which turned out not to be the case. Lines began forming at stores, she said, and the local Walmart began rationing bottled water to two cases per family.

    “I feel horrible for Forth Myers and central Florida, which only had a day to prepare,” Smith said. “Talking to family in Connecticut, I almost felt guilty saying we were safe.”

    Smith said Ian hit Fort Myers head on and then went northeast across central Florida to Orlando, where she works. Property her boss owns near Orlando was completely flooded, she said.

    Bruce Bentley, of East Lyme, cleared out of Tampa after fishing in Tampa Bay on Monday. He and his wife, who had driven down ahead of him, caught last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays-Toronto Blue Jays baseball game and the Green Bay Packers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game on Sunday before cutting their vacation short. Bentley, vice president of a North Haven construction company, planned to fly home Wednesday night. But all flights were canceled.

    “The hardest thing to do is get out ahead of a storm,” he said.

    When he and his wife prepared to drive home Tuesday morning, it was overcast and breezy. And in the stores, Bentley said, it was pandemonium.

    “People were grabbing cases of water,” he said.

    Bentley said he was amazed to see news coverage Wednesday that showed Ian’s winds had drained the water from Tampa Bay, the very place he’d been fishing two days earlier. The draining was due to a phenomenon known as negative surge. Water eventually refilled the bay.

    Ed Donovan, of Norwich, who heads down to a North Port home north of Fort Myers every year after the holidays, said friends in Florida told him Ian had swept right through the middle of North Port.

    On Thursday, he watched a video taken by a friend. He saw lots of downed branches but, miraculously, his house on Sesame Street was all but unscathed.

    “With the winds over 100 mph, I didn’t know if I was going to have a home,” Donovan said. “I just got a new roof put on it.”

    He said his late father-in-law had raised the house up on loam and gravel, which may have helped save it.

    Joe Winski, a former chief of Groton’s Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, was traveling Friday from Columbus, Ohio, to Orlando. His ultimate destination was Paradise Park, an RV condominium development located 24 miles east of Punta Gorda, which is about 30 miles north of Fort Myers. Winski serves as Paradise Park’s fire chief. He had been visiting friends in Ohio when the storm struck and had trouble getting home.

    Paradise Park had seen winds estimated to be 130 to 140 mph, Winski said. Considerable damage likely awaited him.

    Bruce McDermott, the former Groton school board chairman who’s helping lead the charge against more short-term rentals in Mystic, is president of a condominium association in DeLand, about 40 miles north of Orlando and 15 miles west of Daytona Beach. He expects to travel to Florida in December.

    “Reports are that we escaped major problems, but there is much damage to trees and power is still out,” he said. “There was flooding in town, but we’re up high so there was no real damage.”

    The complex’s unit owners are concerned, though, about future insurance rate hikes, McDermott said.

    Bill Satti, a former southeastern Connecticut resident who resides in Cape Coral, was in Connecticut when Ian struck. In an email, he wrote that he lost most of the shingles on his Cape Coral home, which also sustained damage to a lanai and some interior water damage. Relatives living in Sarasota weathered the storm.

    “Bottom line is that it is only property and our family is safe and life will go on!” Satti wrote.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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