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A Fort Myers family deals with gratitude and grief after Hurricane Ian floods their home

The Meckley family
Gerard Albert III
The Meckley family

Most of the mango trees lining the sides of Sarah Meckley’s house are split in half. The house, nestled against the Caloosahatchee River north of Palm Beach Boulevard, had about three feet of water inside at the height of the flooding.

A sailboat, floated from somewhere on the river, now rests against palm trees in her backyard. Meckley’s mother lives next door. A pontoon boat crushed her air conditioning unit. Meckley’s koi fish pond was left just a ditch in the ground.

Like the rest of the neighborhood, Meckley spent days removing debris from her yard, inspecting the damage and clearing her house in an attempt to save furniture and other keepsakes that were damaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Ian.

Meckley’s daughters Abigail and Annabel helped sort through childhood photos and drawings Tuesday morning. They sat on plastic chairs in their front lawn parsing through boxes, trying to salvage photos and other family memorabilia.

They said that this is when the loss started to set in. Some things, like Annabel Brewster’s childhood drawings, made it. Others, like VHS videos of the girls when they were young didn’t.

“Today seeing that bin was my breaking point,” Meckley said. Earlier that day she sobbed as she realized those memories would be lost.

Still, Meckley and her daughters don’t complain. They know there are dozens of people that don't have a house to come back to.

Friends and previously nameless neighbors pitched in to help clear the yard, the pile “was the size of two houses,” Meckely said. The family worked to remove the antique furniture from the house and onto the lawn to dry out.

“All I can say is my two emotions are an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our community, and then an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed,” Meckley said.

Escaping the storm

The Caloosahatchee River was rising fast in her backyard Wednesday afternoon. Hurricane Ian was the first storm her and family had weathered in their riverside house.

Meckley thought about evacuating before the storm, but saw it was forecast to hit north, near Tampa. Meckley and her three daughters decided to ride out the storm in their one-story home even as the forecast changed.

“We weren't being foolish, we were just thinking money-wise, you need money to leave,” Meckley said. “And when you start sorting that out you're like, ‘Well, if it's going here and it's only going to be this mile per hour winds, and we'll be okay.’”

 Abigail Brewster looks at photographs from her mother's childhood laid out on her bed to dry after they were damaged by the flooding.
Gerard Albert III
WLRN Public Radio
Abigail Brewster looks at photographs from her mother's childhood laid out on her bed to dry after they were damaged by the flooding.

“And if you have pets where you're going to go with all your pets,” her daughter Abigail Brewster added.

As the water rose, the family started to worry.

“We weren't being foolish, we were just thinking money-wise, you need money to leave." Sarah Meckley

“We noticed that the water went from being behind the seawall to being all the way up in the yard and getting closer to the house,” Brewster said. “And then within an hour it was starting to come into the house.”

Meckley said she considered waiting it out, possibly staying afloat on air mattresses. But the family had dogs and didn’t think they could manage. So they fled their house. As she was rushing to leave, Abigail saw a pontoon boat floating in their yard.

“My face went numb."

In “80-mile-per-hour winds” the family put on life jackets, and waded through waist deep water with their pets in cages.

“We just hopped in the truck and just drove. We didn't care. We just drove and we escaped,” Meckley said.

They ended up staying with a family friend further up the road.

The family cleared their home the day after the storm. Then they cleared the neighbors house – it only got about two inches of water inside. Those neighbors, snowbirds who planned to move down permanently, are letting Meckley and her family stay there while they clean up.

Meckley is worried about mold and said she will likely have to remodel the entire house. But she is grateful she still has it.

“I don't want to complain because I know there's people out there worse off than me,” she said. “And I feel guilty even being upset over something like that.”

WLRN-FM Public Radio 91.3
Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Gerard Albert III/WLRN Public Radio, 91.3