MATLACHA — Just past Island Pho & Grill, the road to Pine Island fell into the pass.
Hurricane Ian’s eye slashed through this area, dropping the one road in or out. People who chose to ride out the storm were stranded — in St. James City, Bokeelia and elsewhere.
Aimee Sansing, 46, has driven the road every day for a couple of decades. She decided to evacuate late, but her 38-year-old brother stayed behind.
She hadn’t heard from him since 2 p.m. Wednesday, when he texted that an oak tree had split, damaging her roof.
That was a little more than an hour before Ian made landfall as a merciless Category 4 hurricane, among the strongest to ever hit the U.S.
On Thursday, Sansing had tried to drive back to Pine Island at daybreak. But a police officer she knew stopped her and told her the road leading to Bokeelia was gone.
There was no way to get to her brother.
“I’m hoping he shows up by boat,” she said.
She saw the washout for the first time at about 5:30 p.m., under a bright sun and blue sky.
Other signs of the storm surrounded her.
A Ford Focus rested just above the water, caught between chunks of grass and concrete. Waves slapped against snapped wood from broken buildings. The fronds of the palm trees all faced south.
A dead bird lay on the roadway that remained, next to snaking power lines.
“I didn’t know the extent of it until just now,” Sansing said, shaking.
Boats chugged past on both sides of the narrow strip of land that makes up Matlacha, headed toward the big island.
Sansing’s mother-in-law, who hunkered down with her during the storm in Cape Coral, said it was impossible to explain. Words couldn’t capture the destruction.
“It’s just unfathomable,” Sansing said.
Beside her, Carina Sommers, 54, and Michael Lindsay, 61, were seeing the aftermath for the second time. The storm had hammered their personal training, skincare and massage business, Matlacha Wellness. They’d first driven out from Cape Coral on Wednesday night, when Lindsay feared their building would no longer be standing.
It was, but looked different with damage to the roof, interior and dock.
They have clients who chose to stay on the island during the hurricane.
“We’re afraid that the worst could have happened,” Lindsay said.
Staring at the wreckage, Sommers and Lindsay contemplated their future.
“How do you rebuild this?” he asked.
And she wondered: “How long’s it going to take?”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.