As Hurricane Ian headed toward Florida, elected leaders and government officials across Tampa Bay braced for what was predicted as a possible ‘worst-case scenario’ for the region.
Instead, Hurricane Ian veered south, making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 28, as the deadliest hurricane to strike Florida since the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.
Footage from national and local television coverage revealed the destructive forces of Hurricane Ian, as it traveled through areas including Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, Cape Coral and other places to the south of the Tampa Bay region, and then headed across the state of Florida, before entering the Atlantic Ocean and making another landfall in South Carolina.
News footage showed heroic actions, and search and rescue teams going house to house looking for survivors.
The coverage also captured the human emotion of people being rescued, and others dealing with the loss of their homes and businesses.
Floodwaters spilled into houses. High winds sheared off roofs.
Boats were stacked up in marinas, or tossed blocks away. Roads turned into rivers. Cars and trucks floated down streets. Trees toppled. The power was out, water systems weren’t working and pumping stations were damaged.
But, as soon as they could get there, Pasco County emergency responders and private citizens went to the hurricane-ravaged areas, to help.
The Pasco County Commission took a few minutes out of its Dec. 6 meeting to express appreciation for those leaving their families here, to help others suffering in Ian’s aftermath.
One resolution cast a spotlight on the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Deployable Emergency Response Team for its search and rescue efforts in Lee County.
Another resolution highlighted the donations collected and delivered, as well as the volunteer work done by members of Rotary District 6950, Pasco residents, Maus Nissan and Big Storm Brewery.
A third resolution recognized Pasco Fire/Rescue first responders, and a fourth resolution highlighted the efforts of employees in the county’s emergency management division.
The sheriff’s Deployable Emergency Response Team deployed canines and drones to help people who were trapped under debris and damaged structures.
“As everybody knows, that storm was focused here, first,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco told the county board. “We got the call from Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, everybody saying, ‘What do you need?”
“Other sheriffs were calling, ‘As soon as that makes landfall, we’re there.’
“And then, within a matter of hours, it shifted.
“I want to thank our deputies who went down there — the women and men who went down there — their families were here.”
“The Rotaries, the businesses, everybody who went down there to support our members — that is so heartwarming. That, to them, means so much,” Nocco said.
If Ian hadn’t turned, the story would have been much different, the sheriff and others said.
“If that storm would have hit us, everything west of (U.S.) 19 would have been rocked.
“When you see sand piled up above your head and you see the water,” Nocco said. “The amount of water that came in, it was unbelievable.”
Pasco organizations, businesses and residents also stepped forward to help.
Rotary District 6950 organized a collection drive, with its 49 clubs delivering donations to Mau Nissan, which opened its Bay area locations to accept the donations.
The Rotary district delivered supplies to the sheriff’s Deployable Emergency Response Teams stationed in both Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, and also raised $85,000 for additional hurricane relief efforts in Lee County.
The volunteers filled four 26-foot box trucks with collected donations and delivered them to the residents of Lee County.
Big Storm Brewery also opened its doors to collect donations and supplies to take to Lee County residents.
Private citizens also helped, including a group including Alison Crumbley, a member of the Pasco County School Board.
The group delivered supplies to the area to help people in need. They knocked on doors to see how they could help.
In the midst of their efforts, the U-Haul stocked with items to help Ian victims broke down and it took seven hours to get back on the road, Crumbley said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told the helpers how impressed she was by their efforts.
“What I heard what you guys did, I was just floored,” Starkey said.
Crumbley responded: “We’re humbled. We’re just Florida folks who saw other Florida folks really hurt. It could have been us, and it looked like it was going to be.”
Pasco County Fire/Rescue sent several teams down to help in the aftermath and several employees from the county’s emergency management division also went to help.
“One thing we noticed is that the emergency management team, quite a few of them had lost their homes,” said Laura Wilcoxen, Pasco’s assistant director of emergency management.
“So, while they were serving their community, allowing us to come in, they trusted us and turned over their EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to us, to let Andrew Fossa (Pasco’s director of emergency management) and myself be the incident commander, and run their EOC for them, while they were able to take a break, to be able to take care of themselves and their home.”
The county’s team saw catastrophic damage, with watermarks that were 25-feet high, Wilcoxen said.
“If it came over here, everything west of (U.S.) 19 could have been lost,” she added.
County board members expressed appreciation for county staff members who helped out, particularly the first responders.
Commissioner Gary Bradford told them: “You guys are the tip of the spear. When duty calls, you go. I’m personally very proud of you.”
Published December 21, 2022