FORT MYERS, Fla. — Unlike the affluent beach communities of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, where the media descended to report every detail of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, the people who live in Dunbar squats have mostly faced the crisis on their own.
And for many in the historically African-American neighborhood, there is a sense of anger and frustration. “They say the islands have been destroyed,” observes Lexxus Cherry, 24. “Well, we’re destroyed too. We’re really screwed up here.”
There is no electricity. Water comes out of the tap, but it’s little more than a thin brownish trickle, unfit for consumption. A faint smell of sewage rises from the street.
When people here call the electricity and water authorities, they get only vague assurances. No promises and no deadlines.
Authorities accused of slowness in black communities
Cherry’s uncle, Ta’Wan Grant, senses a pattern in their plight.
“I understand that the city is doing its best to restore everyone’s power,” he says. “But that’s a common thing I see in cities across America. Whenever a disaster happens, for whatever reason, the city is slow to respond to people from ethnic communities, low-income communities. “
“We are the ones who need the help the most,” Grant says.
A large piece of twisted aluminum siding, apparently blown across the street, lies in a crumpled heap on Grant’s front yard. His air conditioning unit was ripped out, leaving a gaping hole in the side of his house.
Cherry’s mother, Chanel, who lives a few blocks away in public housing, underwent a kidney transplant in May. She says she has had “no water, no ice, nothing” since Tuesday. “I did not see a single policeman [officer] come check out the community where we live,” she adds.
In the area hit by the storm on an outskirts of the city on Sunday, about 580,000 people were still without power and boil water advisories had been issued for 120 areas in 22 counties.
“You Can’t Hide From God”
Earline McCoy has lived next door since 1969. She has seen many hurricanes pass here over the past five decades. But this one tops them all, she admits.
McCoy and his friend, Jesse Howard, stayed home as Ian approached. “You can’t hide from God,” she says.
The roof at the back of his house heaved up and down in the strong winds, causing the plasterboard ceiling to crumble and collapse. Fortunately for her, she is insured.
Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio
McCoy, who is 85, says she gets bottled water from a nearby rescue center. She is optimistic that “if we turn the light back on in a day or two, we will save our food.”
Outside nearby Dunbar High School, which is being used as a temporary shelter, Sheddrick Jacobs and his wife Sheneka wait for a bus to take them to the centralized shelter, with electricity and water, at the Hertz Arena in Estero.
“I get what I need, and I think other people get what they need too,” he says. “From what I see on Facebook and Instagram and then us coming here, I think it was great.”
A woman’s tale of two storms
About a mile west, in historic Dean Park, Lindsay Comstock’s rental home backs almost to the Caloosahatchee River, which Ian caused to overflow its banks, sending a torrent of water through one-story house.
As the storm approached, it evacuated to nearby Naples, “but they were hit just as badly and I lost my truck there.”
As she comes out of the house in wet carpets and clothes, her boyfriend calls. “It’s all gone,” she told him. “Everything we own is gone.”
Comstock was living on the Jersey Shore during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. She also lost almost everything in that storm, she says.
Since Ian, she’s already been filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. “They really helped me” after Sandy, she says. “I’m hoping the same with this. It takes a bit of time.”
Looking around at the destruction that her life has been, she seems resigned.
“It’s just a thing, I can get it back,” she said. “My family is safe. My dog is safe. It could be worse.”
NPR’s Martin Kaste contributed to this story from Fort Myers.