‘They’re making a difference in people’s lives’: Red Cross helping Arcadia residents who lost their homes in Hurricane Ian

ARCADIA, Fla. – After Hurricane Ian tore through Southwest Florida, people are still struggling for basic needs like power, water and a place to stay.

News4JAX on Monday spent the day in the rural areas in and around Arcadia, a town in DeSoto County east of Fort Myers.

We found Christina Castle walking her 2-year-old son, Gavin, around DeSoto Middle School. She said it’s the closest thing to normalcy after losing their home in the storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 28.

She said she was inside a bathroom with three children for 12 hours as their mobile home shook, eventually sliding off the foundation.

“Absolutely terrifying,” Castle recounted.

Gavin’s older brother and sister helped shield Gavin, who has autism, from the storm’s wrath as the roof came off.

“It was just terrifying. I was yelling for my kids to hold onto each other and not let go. My youngest son, I was holding him,” Castle recalled. “It was really scary.”

Castle said the children are all OK physically but added that they’re shaken up. She created a GoFundMe account with a goal of $25,000.

Nearly two weeks later, with a flooded car and nowhere to go, they’re still at a shelter, thanks to the American Red Cross.

The shelter in Arcadia has water and power. It’s now home to 49 people — residents who lost their homes. The Red Cross is helping with cots, food, counseling and hoping to help them find temporary housing.

“It’s awesome. I get choked up. It’s what we do. I was in Hurricane Michael. My area was affected. I know what it is like. It’s great to be able to help these people,” said American Red Cross shelter manager Jim Ball.

Ball’s team is giving guests a helping hand when they have next to nothing else.

The shelter in Arcadia has water and power. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
The shelter in Arcadia is now home to residents who lost their homes. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

This is a rural, farming area, and many families were already struggling to make ends meet before 20 feet of floodwaters and Category 4 winds turned their lives upside down in a day. As rainwater drained from other places, the Peace River continued to rise — not peaking for a week.

“Just sitting and listening to them. They don’t need me to say anything. Let them talk. I was out here this morning with a lady. She shows me pics from her childhood. They’re grieving. They’ve lost a lot,” Ball said.

News4JAX met Robert K. outside the shelter. He and his wife lost their home. He said it’s filled with water, mold and dozens of rats. Their dog also passed away.

“We’re going to relocate. We love Florida, and we own our property, but we can’t go through another hurricane like this,” he said.

He’s choosing to focus on what he has — not what he’s lost.

“Red Cross, I always looked up to them but never thought I would need them,” he said. “They’re making a difference in people’s lives — definitely my life.”

A photo shows flooding in Arcadia. (Special to WJXT)
A photo shows flooding in Arcadia. (Special to WJXT)

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Monday that it will open a temporary Mobile Business Recovery Center in Arcadia to help Floridians applying for SBA disaster loan assistance due to Hurricane Ian, which began Sept. 23. The Mobile BRC will begin serving the public at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Yellow Deli at 22 N. Polk Ave. in Arcadia. It will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

SBA Customer Service Representatives will be available to answer questions about the disaster loan program and assist business owners in completing their applications. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the SBA has established protocols to help protect the health and safety of the public. All visitors to the BRCs are encouraged to wear a face mask.

Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s/ and should apply under SBA declaration #17644.

To be considered for all forms of disaster assistance, applicants should register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or download the Federal Emergency Management mobile app. If online or mobile access is unavailable, applicants should call the FEMA toll-free helpline at 800-621-3362. Those who use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services should call 800-621-3362.

Disaster loan information and application forms can also be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (if you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 711 to access telecommunications relay services) or sending an email to DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov. Loan applications can also be downloaded from sba.gov/disaster. Completed applications should be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is Nov. 28. The deadline to return economic injury applications is June 29.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.