A multi-purpose arena in Southwest Florida is being used as a shelter for hurricane victims

A multi-purpose arena in Southwest Florida is being used as a shelter for Hurricane Ian victims.

ESTERO, Fla. – Hertz Arena in Estero is a 7,181 seat arena used for sports and entertainment. Right now, more than 500 people call it home.

Denise Griffin lost everything in Hurricane Ian. She said she tried getting off Fort Myers Beach, but public transportation stopped.

“I don’t have a car, I always rode a bike up and down the island,” Griffin said.

She was left to wait out the storm in a hotel on the beach where she lived. “Doors were blowing in the wind. I was so scared,” Griffin said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. I just prayed ‘don’t let the building fall’.”

After the storm, a friend rescued her. “He said, I’m so glad I found you.”

Denise now sleeps at the Hertz Arena in Estero. More than 500 Hurricane Ian survivors are living there and nurses are treating many of the people who were hurt.

“We see a lot of wound care, a lot of skin tears,” nurse Vanessa Dieujust said.

Much like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when survivors took refuge in Louisiana’s Superdome, survivors of Ian are staying at Hertz Arena -- for now.

“They don’t want to stay here forever,” Jay Lawrence with the American Red Cross said. “They want to get back to their homes or their new home.”

After Katrina, FEMA mobile homes became transitional housing for displaced people. When asked what’s next for Ian’s survivors, Lawrence said, “As weeks go by, we will work with them individually to make sure they have case workers so they have a plan.”

FEMA announced Friday that survivors who have applied for disaster assistance may be eligible for shelter in a hotel paid for by FEMA. FEMA said close to 4,000 people have been rescued by state and federal teams.

More than $90 million in disaster relief has gone to Hurricane Ian survivors so far. Ian will cost the federal government billions.

Despite the arena closing in on their capacity of 600, the Red Cross said no one will be turned away, and they will find places for people who have nowhere to go.

About the Author:

Bridgette Matter joined the Local 10 News team as a reporter in July 2021. Before moving to South Florida, she began her career in South Bend, Indiana and spent six years in Jacksonville as a reporter and weekend anchor.