FORT MYERS, Fla. — Unlike the thriving coastal communities of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, where the media has descended on chronicling every detail of Hurricane Ian’s aftermath, people living in occupied housing in Dunbar have faced the crisis largely on their own .
And for many in the historically black neighborhood, there is a sense of anger and frustration. “They say the islands were destroyed,” observes 24-year-old Lexxus Cherry. “Well, we’re screwed too. We’re really screwed up here.”
There is no electricity. The water comes out of the tap, but it’s little more than a thin brown stream, unsafe to drink. A faint smell of sewage rises from the street.
When people here call the electricity and water authorities, they only get vague assurances. No promises and no deadlines.
Authorities accused of slow response in black communities
Cherry’s uncle, Ta’Wan Grant, detects a pattern in her situation.
“I understand that the city is doing everything it can to restore everyone’s power,” he says. “But this is a common thing that I see in American cities. Every time a disaster happens, for whatever reason, the city is slow to respond to people in ethnic communities, in low-income communities.”
“We’re the ones who need help the most,” says Grant.
A large chunk of twisted aluminum siding, apparently blown in from across the street, lay in a crumpled heap in Grant’s front yard. His air conditioning unit was ripped out, leaving a large hole in the side of his house.
Cherry’s mother, Chanel, who lives a few blocks away in low-income housing, had a kidney transplant in May and says she hasn’t had “water, or ice, or anything” since Tuesday. “I haven’t seen a policeman [officer] they come to see how the community where we live is doing,” he adds.
“You Can’t Hide From God”
Earline McCoy has lived next door since 1969. She’s seen plenty of hurricanes pass through here in the last five decades. But this one tops them all, she admits.
McCoy and his friend, Jesse Howard, stayed home when Ian came over. “You can’t hide from God,” she says.
The roof at the back of her house moved up and down in the high winds, causing the drywall ceiling to give way and collapse. Lucky for her, she’s insured.
Carlos Osorio/Carlos Osorio
McCoy, 85, says he has been receiving bottled water from a nearby aid center. She is optimistic that “if we turn on the lights in a day or two, we will save our food.”
Outside the nearby Dunbar High School, which is 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 from coming here, I think it’s been great.”
A woman’s story of two storms
About a mile west, in the Dean Park Historic District, Lindsay Comstock’s rental almost backs up to the Caloosahatchee River, which Ian caused to overflow, sending a torrent of water through the one-story house.
As the storm approached, he evacuated to nearby Naples, “but they got hit just as bad and I lost my truck there.”
While she is pulling soggy rugs and clothes out of the house, her boyfriend calls on the phone. “It’s all gone,” she tells him. “Everything we have is gone.”
Comstock lived on the Jersey shore during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He also lost almost everything in that storm, he says.
Since Ian, he has already filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. “They really helped me” after Sandy, she says. “I hope the same with this. It takes a bit of time.”
Looking around at the destruction that was her life, she seems resigned.
“This is just stuff, I can get it back,” she says. “My family is safe. My dog is safe. It could be worse.”
NPR’s Martin Kaste contributed to this story from Fort Myers.