Damaged homes and debris are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Damaged homes and debris are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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(Editor’s Note: OMP resident Joe Gorka sent me this dispatch from Florida, where he writes of the devastation following Hurricane Ian. – jb)

This a short note on email while we have some cell service. We are in Southwest Florida before, during, and after hurricane IAN, and we are safe. We haven’t been able to contact friends in the Township because of infrastructure damage to Internet and cell.

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Internet and cell phone service after Hurricane Ian is mainly unavailable. We haven’t been able to communicate with so many friends since Hurricane Ian made landfall here.

We left Old Mission Peninsula for our close friend’s funeral in Charlotte County in southwest Florida a week before Ian made landfall. Hearing that the predicted storm Ian was heading to southwest Florida before leaving OMP, we chose to be among loved ones there for Rick’s life celebration. Our friend Rick was a deputy sheriff for Charlotte County for more than 30 years. He died suddenly of a massive heart attack while riding on his tractor.

After Laurel and I arrived here, the weather forecasts in the few days before Ian made landfall on southwest Florida between Sanibel north to Englewood Beach proved accurate.

Riding Out the Hurricane

Hurricane Ian was to make landfall in southwest Florida as a major Category 4 to Category 5. Winds were predicted at 155 mph, with saltwater storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico predicted to be 12 to 18 feet of water above ground level.

Elevations here range from 3 feet to 8 feet above sea level. Most roadway elevations in residential areas are 6 or 7 feet above the Gulf. The reasonable worse case scenario for storm surge flooding was 26 feet above normal ground level, well above residential rooftop levels because most homes around here are single story.

in the few days ahead of Ian’s landfall, millions of people evacuated with their pets, some heading east to Miami, others north on I-75. Many snowbirds were still safe up north for their summer and fall seasons.

For our parts, with these predictions, those close to us chose to shelter at home, and Laurel and I decided to ride out the storm and shelter in place at this house near Englewood, and if we made it through, be available to help after the storm safely passed.

I told Laurel I wasn’t afraid for myself, and Laurel said to me that we came down here from the Peninsula to Rick’s funeral as an act of Love, and it didn’t make sense that God was going to kill or hurt us in a hurricane.

Our biggest worry was for our two cats if something happened to us.

The Most Powerful Hurricane to Hit Southwest Florida

Wednesday morning, the final landfall forecast for Ian came on TV. It had developed into a much huger storm than earlier predicted. The dangerous eyewall in the center of the hurricane grew to over 50 miles wide, and the 155+ mph wind bands circulating counterclockwise around the eye of the storm were a hundred miles or more wide. It was to make landfall as a high Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm.

The bigger problem developed as the storm’s forward movement slowed from 13 to 6 miles per hour as it neared landfall. That meant the dangerous storm winds and major Gulf waters flood surge would last many, many more hours than predicted.

It was predicted to be the largest, most powerful hurricane to hit southwest Florida, and it certainly became just that.

A few hours before the storm made landfall, we went outside to the boat and brought the life jackets inside our house. If we were on the storm surge side of the storm, we would place our cats in their carriers on a top shelf and we would wear life jackets, hardhats and safety goggles.

We very consciously asked and prayed to know our lives and our will abide ONLY in God’s Power, and “Thy will be done.”

The north side eye of the storm did make landfall over us near Englewood at 10:30 a.m., and the south edge of the eye made landfall on Sanibel Island about the same time.

Rod and Lisa Langbo’s (former OMP residents on Bluff Road) mom and sister stayed on the second floor of a three story building on Sanibel Island to ride out the storm there. They made it through the storm safely, and are now both safe, in spite of having a large hurricane glass window and hurricane shutters sucked out of the window frame by the storm’s negative pressures.

A 30-Foot Wall of Water

We were on the 150+ mph wind side of the storm. Sanibel was on the 12 to 18 foot predicted water surge side of the storm. Sanibel actually had a 30 foot wall of water washing across that island for five or six hours. Rod’s mom and sister are still safe, and family are bringing them back to Michigan.

The Sanibel bridge, a strong structure, collapsed into the Gulf in four sections. Those who stayed on the island, included Rod’s mom and sister, had to be airlifted off after the storm. There is no longer a beautiful bridge out to Sanibel.

For our part, Laurel set up a shelter for us in an interior room, and after about three hours of 145+ mph sustained Cat 4 to Cat 5 winds hitting our house, called me and our cat TZ and our other kitten Zooey into the interior shelter. We stayed in the closet for awhile resting and reading a little while the winds howled. We lost power and public water, and we were getting 18+ inches of rain blowing horizontally and whipping around the house. Our front yard was like a small lake with white caps.

Electric and public water went out, and as I write this, they are still out with no estimates. Our roof and windows and doors were holding steady. We prayed a little more and read some Psalms from an old Bible.

A very tall, 50-year-old coconut palm tree fell onto our attached garaged and slid onto the house roof.

After six more hours of 140+ mph winds, we came out to the dining room and played some cards and stayed calm. It seemed certain our house was withstanding the steady and noisy hurricane winds.

The winds we experienced were the equivalent of being in the middle of a 140+ mph tornado for eight hours. We are fortunate we had the tornado winds and not the storm water surge coming up from the Gulf like Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Naples.

Below is, sadly, a typical photo of what hundreds of thousands of homes look like here in southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian. This photo is of our friend Louis’ family home.

A photo from Joe Gorka's friend Louis Cerbone in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian
A photo from Joe Gorka’s friend Louis Cerbone in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

Louis Cerbone is a close family friend and construction supervisor whose house was a mile from where we stayed during Ian. Louis gathered his four young daughters, one an infant, and his wife into an interior bathroom, placed a large mattress over them, and laid his 300-pound body on top of the mattress holding his family down with his weight, arms and legs, while the tornado winds TOTALLY blew his house and truck away.

Louis and his family emerged safe. The children are having a hard time yet, and daddy is giving out a lot of hugs. Louis stopped by yesterday to check on us, and we hugged, cried grateful tears, and thanked God.

Search and Rescue Begins

Laurel and I will stick around here for awhile. Local churches and all sorts of organizations are mobilizing. A church we are affiliated with is organizing a cadre of nurses and mental health/first aid responders to head to Ft. Myers and Naples, where search and rescue are finding more people.

We are seeing the best of humanity coming out as people unite after a major disaster. President Biden and Governor DeSantis are talking KINDLY with each other several times a day.

As I reflect, I know when we return home to the Old Mission Peninsula, we will look forward to experiencing the same kind of respectful communication and supportive behaviors in our Township . Kindness and respect and caring is the reality of what we are.

What can sometimes seem like snarky and disrespectful opinions expressed about our Township officials or towards each other IS A REAL LUXURY, and it ignores the best within ourselves.

I’d advise not to indulge in that luxury too much. It often blinds us to the good that really resides in all our hearts, and we can miss important opportunities to feel gratitude for the smallest of things during our days here.

We slept well and remain in the same state of chronic gratitude as before the storm with a big acute sense of gratitude now!

If anyone is interesting in contributing time or funds to the relief effort, click over to captainsforcleanwater.org.

God Bless you all. Our Facebook ministry will resume once Internet is restored.

Rev. Laurel and Joe Gorka
Peninsula Township Residents

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan

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