After Hurricane Ian, “I will never go back to living in Florida”

Originally from the icy plains of Michigan, Keith and his wife Tinka Bucholtz came to spend every winter in Florida and settled there four years ago, in Fort Myers on the peninsula’s east coast. When Hurricane Ian struck, the two retirees did not evacuate. They went to take refuge with their daughter. A house on the lagoon, but of concrete, insulated with hurricane windows and elevated. No danger, they thought, as the eye of the storm landed. “We couldn’t even feel the wind inside”explains Keith Wucholtz, sitting on the porch, 24 degrees and an autumn sun that has returned radiant.

The house did not move, but that mattered without the rising waters, on this disastrous Wednesday 28 September. The water rises, almost two meters, until it touches the first floor. Tinka Buchholtz doesn’t know if the waters will continue to rise. “Of course I thought I was going to die. We have time to play in these moments. This hurricane took me ten years. I will never go back to live in Florida “, assures the seventy-year-old. The couple’s house, unlike that of the daughter, is destroyed. It is decided that they will return to settle in their native Michigan, north of Grand Rapids.

In this hurricane, it wasn’t the wind that surprised. It sowed desolation in its path, but in a predictable way: by bolstering its hurricane standards, the most stringent in the country, Florida has built structures that withstand ever better. Certainly, the bridges leading to nearby Sanibel and Pine Island have been swept away. But homes built to Florida standards have held out, while shabby wooden shacks and RVs have flown away, coconut palms have been uprooted, and trees uprooted.

The road overrun by the sea

No, the unexpected phenomenon concerns the rising of the waters, created by the cyclonic depression, amplified by the high tide, the winds and the shallow depth of the bay. So Keith Cunnigham, 74, a retired Delaware businessman, isn’t really afraid for his life: his solid house is two-story, and he too stayed there during the storm. Suddenly, as the hurricane is reaching its climax, he receives a phone call from the neighbors, a couple in their seventies: they have only one plan and ask to take refuge with him. He sees them crossing the road overrun by the sea, beaten by winds above 100 km / h, from the water to above the belt. “I thought they wouldn’t make it” he says in his garage, cap defending the right to carry guns on his head.

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