Hurricane Ian Assessment Begins in Florida’s Lee County

Southern  |  October 10, 2022
Hurricane Ian brings destruction to Pine Island, Florida. Photo/Qihua Luo

Written by Judu Su, Qihua Luo 
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall in the United States, causing substantial loss of life and property. Ian made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, and in Lee County’s Pine Island, the damage experienced was extreme. The bridge to Fort Myers, which is the county seat and commercial center of Lee County, had also been destroyed. To help in this monumental recovery effort, Tzu Chi relief volunteers have mobilized emergency response efforts.

A Google Maps view of Lee County, Florida, on October 8, 2022. Photo/Google Maps
On October 8, 2022, Tzu Chi Southern Region volunteers visit Pine Island’s St. James City and Bokeelia communities. Photo/Google Maps

It was the 11th day since Hurricane Ian struck Florida, causing heavy damage to its southwestern coast. In the morning, Tzu Chi Southern Region CEO Zhenxiong Luo, volunteer Shuyi Bai, and Miami Service Center volunteers Mingzhe Lin, Changzhi Cai, and Judu Su, were led by Zachary Stokes of the American Red Cross South Florida Region to visit the Red Cross disaster relief center in Fort Myers. 

From the gate to every floor, several staff members of the American Red Cross conveyed their thanks to Tzu Chi volunteers for their presence as they collaborated for prior disaster relief efforts in Texas, Kentucky, and California.

The First Day in Pine Island

Pine Island faces severe damage. Photo/Qihua Luo

Mr. Stokes and Tzu Chi volunteers had driven to Lee county, an area that was devastated by the hurricane, and headed westward to Pine Island. It marked the first time the area had been opened to volunteers since the disaster.

When the car pulled into the streets of St. James City, the southernmost region of Pine Island, residents cleaning up their damaged homes became emotional when they noticed the volunteers’ presence, and asked them to leave immediately. The pure emotional toll of the situation was painful enough as it was — survivors had worked hard for their entire lives, only to lose everything in an instant. 

Because of the severity of this disaster, several volunteers came to speak with survivors and document their immediate needs. The disaster situation was utterly unfathomable even in the experience of veteran disaster relief volunteers, which led Tzu Chi to consider additional approaches to helping and comforting survivors.

The Community of Bokeelia

Pine Island faces severe damage. Photo/Qihua Luo

After exchanges and adjustments at the distribution site set up by World Central Kitchen in Pine Island, Mr. Stokes took Tzu Chi volunteers to visit Bokeelia, a community in Lee County with a population of roughly 2,000. Homes were closer together, and the damage was severe. Many people were engaged in cleanup, while more groups rested on porches momentarily, taking in the immensity of the tasks at hand. The Tzu Chi disaster survey team discussed the day’s findings as they exited the community. Mr. Stokes will continue to share more disaster relief information in the coming days, while the Tzu Chi assessment team will resume the in-depth surveying process in preparation for following disaster relief operations.

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