Fort Myers Beach homeowner describes ‘Times Square basically gone, complete destruction’

Fort Myers Beach homeowner Marc Taglieri woke up Thursday morning and headed to check on his house on Fort Myers Beach. This is his first-hand account.

We have a cottage on Gulf Island Drive. We moved here in 2011 and bought our first house and then we bought a second residence on the beach in 2012. The Paradise Cottage. It’s a three-bedroom cottage. It was built in the 1950s. It’s about 12 houses from the Gulf.

We try to get there every chance we get, at least one of the two days we’re off of work. We relax. We sit on the beach, float in our pool. We fish a little bit, we ride bikes. In some ways, we act like tourists. The peacefulness, the calmness.

Our hearts, our minds and where we want to be all the time is on the beach. You can feel like you’re a million miles away.

I didn’t really know how bad it was until I got there Thursday morning. I got in the car with two of my friends. We drove over to Fort Myers Beach first thing.

Fort Myers Beach homeowner Marc Taglieri in front of Fresh Catch Bistro, where he celebrated his 50th birthday.

We saw a car parked in the drainage ditch, more than halfway filled with water. As we got closer, we just saw a guy’s body laying on the side of the road. Several people had just stopped to see what was going on and call the authorities. We think that somebody pulled him out of the vehicle. Rigor mortis had set in at that point. He was probably in his 60s. We’ve had a lot of storms, you don’t see that. It really just set the stage. It was sobering to see that someone was just trying to save themselves and wasn’t able to make it. I’m sure he’s a brother, a father, a cousin, a son and his family had no idea I’m sure at that point.

That was on our way to Fort Myers Beach in the morning. We couldn’t get to my house. We went back to Wild Blue (in Estero), where we live, but I looked at my friend and said, ‘We’ve got to go back.’ And he said, ‘Let’s go.’

Three of us got in the Jeep and that’s when they stopped us at the bridge and we made the three-mile walk. I had to show ID to get on the island.

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The ride down San Carlos Boulevard from Summerlin Road to the beach was ominous because you start seeing boats flipped over the railing and the mangroves. Not small boats. Big boats like 30-footers. Trees down, power lines down. Getaway Marina was just annihilated. Captain Tony’s party boat, which is probably 90 foot or so, was on San Carlos Boulevard.

Boats were everywhere, literate in the middle of the road. Then as soon as you get to the bridge, all the shrimp boats from the shrimp boat fleet were pushed up against their docks up toward Salty Sam’s. Just stacked one on top of the next.

Times Square, basically gone. Destruction, complete destruction. I’ve been using the word destruction because seven to eight block stretches of beachfront, every structure just gone. It appears that anything that was built in the last 20 years was able to survive but the majority of the structures built before that had significant damage or were just completely annihilated. Six inches to a couple feet of sand on the boulevard. If the sand was white it would look like a blizzard down the boulevard.

We came across a guy that was walking off the island with a wagon full of stuff. He rode out the storm with a baby and his wife. He said they were hanging on for life. I said, ‘It’s bad here.’ He said, ‘It just keeps getting worse.’

I had another mile to go. He was validation that what I had already seen was going to get even worse heading down toward our street.

It really looked like the front half of the streets got hit with tornadoes or the exact eyewall. There were homes, parts of the homes up. And there were others that were completely gone and you couldn’t identify it. Debris everywhere. Lumber, roof trusses, cinder blocks. Like a bomb went off.

We were shocked to find that my house was still standing. The property was completely covered in sand and mud, a couple of inches thick. Wind damage around the outside for sure but for me it’s a water issue in addition to the wind.

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I had to climb through a window to get into the house. There was water in the cabinets, water in the oven, water in the refrigerator. Maybe the most significant sign of how high the water got was someone’s brown hardwood desk was on my patio. Somehow it floated that high to land on my back door on a house that was lifted. You’re probably standing at eight, nine feet.

If you look at my house, I was very lucky compared to other people. It’s yet to be seen if that house is salvageable at this point. This is a second home for us. Others suffered much worse than we did, but it just hurts the same. For us personally, it’s going to be to help anybody we can help first. If there’s anything we can do to help our neighbors.

My wife and I are super resilient and we love the beach that much that I would bet on us rebuilding better than ever. I really hope the township, the county, the residents, I hope that everybody is committed to rebuilding this place. It’s a special place.

The Cottage Bar. Junkanoo on the Beach. Fresh Catch Bistro, a couple of weeks ago we celebrated my 50th birthday there.

You’re always going to have the memories. They’re in our minds. They’re in our hearts. The structures might be gone but the memories will stay with us forever.

As told to Janine Zeitlin. Connect with her on Twitter @JanineZeitlin or jzeitlin@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Fort Myers Beach homeowner describes destruction from Hurricane Ian

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