More than two weeks since Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, residents are trying to rebuild, but it’s a slow process.
Deputies are also concerned about looting and storm-related scams.
News4JAX has spent the week in the hardest-hit areas where local teams are trying to make a difference in the wake of unbelievable damage.
Weather has been slowing down the recovery efforts. There is so much work to be done in Southwest Florida, but there are also a lot of residents banding together to help each other and a steady stream of first responders from all over, including Northeast Florida.
News4JAX met Tina Tomasino about two weeks ago, right after Hurricane Ian ripped through Fort Myers Beach. Her bar flooded and has severe damage, but she used it as a meeting place for neighbors. To this day, they go there to share food and supplies.
“Today’s been an emotional day,” Tomasino said. “And it seems like everybody is trying to get life back to normal, and the devastation is so big. You look around, it’s still dirty. Nothing is getting picked up. But everyone still comes here, and they come with a smile.”
Some go to collect, while others go to donate toiletries, clothes and camping supplies. Many residents lost everything but are willing to share the little they have left. The owners of a food truck are donating their kitchen and time.
As Southwest Florida slowly puts the pieces back together, it’s getting help from all over.
St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Detective Alex Aponte is with a task force from St. Johns and Putnam counties, helping out deputies in Charlotte County.
“Some people left, and they’re not back yet to clean up their mess from the hurricane, so stuff is left unprotected,” Aponte said. “We’ve gotten calls where people call and want to have a deputy come by their house.”
As most try to help one another, crooks are trying to take advantage of residents, with looting and fraud happening around the clock. These deputies are on the lookout.
“They’re answering calls for service, proactive policing. The burglaries have increased. I’m sure you understand that with buildings empty and destroyed, burglary arrests have been very prevalent,” St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick.
News4JAX caught up with Hardwick and Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach, both of whom were checking on their teams, pledging resources as long as needed.
“It gives their deputies an opportunity to step back and take a breather for a minute, relax and go check on their families to the extent that they can,” DeLoach said.
Down the road in Lee County, Jacksonville sheriff’s officers are helping out, camping in tents so they don’t take hotel rooms from others. News4JAX also caught up with crews from Clay and Nassau counties who are pitching in however they can.
Helping Southwest Florida
If you’d like to make a difference, here’s a list of the nonprofits and organizations helping out Southwest Florida:
The Florida Disaster Relief Fund is the state of Florida’s official private fund established to assist Florida’s communities as they respond to and recover during times of emergency or disaster.
World Central Kitchen is serving thousands of meals to victims of Hurricane Ian
The Salvation Army is helping with food, supplies, shelter, and social services
News4JAX is also teaming up with the American Red Cross to raise money for victims.