It has taken longer than some residents and business owners expected, and the recovery process has been frustrating for many, but some parts of southwestern Florida that were damaged by Hurricane Ian are welcoming summer travelers.
Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in the U.S. on September 28, 2022, with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. Some of the hardest-hit areas, including Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, saw catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds, according to Weather.gov. In Fort Myers Beach, for instance, Hurricane Ian caused a 15-foot storm surge.
Right now, enormous piles of debris are commonplace in Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, and concrete slabs show where buildings had been before they were either washed away or demolished. Despite this debris issue, most of the hotel rooms in Fort Myers are open again, according to representatives from Fort Myers – Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods.
“That 10,000 rooms is a number that keeps increasing every day,” said Miriam Dotson, the group’s communications manager, according to Travel Weekly. “There are businesses reopening every single day, and there are new businesses coming in and wanting to plant their roots there.”
And in Fort Myers Beach, Gullwing Beach Resort is partially open and management expects to fully reopen soon; the Hampton Inn & Suites is taking reservations again; and the Lovers Key Resort is accepting reservations for arrivals in August.
“We’re getting there,” Visit Florida CEO Dana Young said, according to Travel Weekly.
“Fort Myers Beach has to be rebuilt,” she continues. “Geographically it’s a small area, but it’s just heartbreaking to see.”
Further south, the area around Naples and Marco Island was spared much of the major damage from Ian. Consequently, around 90 percent of the area’s hotel rooms had reopened by December, according to Paul Beirnes, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. About 98 percent of those hotels’ rooms are now available, he continued.
Restaurants Are Opening Too
Some of Naples’s most popular restaurants within resorts along Vanderbilt Beach have not reopened yet, but the situation will change this fall.
Management at The Turtle Club at Vanderbilt Beach Resort, Baleen Naples at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, and The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples have all announced plans to open as quickly as possible and before the end of the year, according to WINK News.
It’s a different story, however, in Fort Myers Beach.
That’s because Jim Atterholt, the town’s vice mayor, compares the level of destruction to what was seen in Europe during World War II. By next year, however, he expects hotels and condos to be fully open and ready for spring break 2024.
“We’re going to have what I call a functional paradise once again,” Atterholt said, according to NPR.
In the meantime, though, many restaurant owners are operating out of tents in parking lots so they can serve residents and workers alike, according to Bay News 9.
Some Popular Beaches Have Also Reopened
At least 13 beaches in Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva have already reopened, and Bowditch Point Park and Crescent Beach Family Park in Fort Myers Beach are expected to open this month, Travel Weekly notes.
For instance, Sanibel Island’s Lighthouse Beach Park, which is home to the historic Sanibel Lighthouse, recently reopened.
You can learn more about Lighthouse Beach Park and Fishing Pier, Tarpon Bay Road Beach Park, and other Sanibel beaches at the City of Sanibel’s Public Park Beach Information.
The Town of Fort Myers Beach explains that it maintains 29 public beach accesses on Estero Island, including Newton Beach Park and Seven Seas Cottage. However, it’s important to note that the beaches in Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island are “in various stages of repair due to damage sustained from Hurricane Ian,” according to Fort Myers Beach.