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In Naples, Hurricane Ian brings dramatic rescues and staggering loss

Neighbors dragged one man up a flight of stairs to save his life.
Published Oct. 1|Updated Oct. 5

NAPLES — Steve Mitchell moved around in the dark.

The 80-year-old sipped vodka from a paper cup inside apartment 206 at the Venetian Bayview condominiums on Friday night, only the light of a phone illuminating the unfamiliar space.

The power was out, and he was about to spend another night sleeping upright in his wheelchair. But at least he was dry.

He recalled the terror of two nights earlier.

When Hurricane Ian’s storm surge raged through downtown Naples on Wednesday, Mitchell watched as water seeped into the first-floor apartment he had called home for more than 15 years. He’d waited out Hurricane Irma in this apartment. Besides, he had no way to leave.

As fish passed his window, Mitchell thought the flooding had to stop soon.

That’s when neighbors picked him up and dragged him up the steps of the complex. He is 6 foot 3 and 285 pounds. It took an hour.

• • •

The stunned residents of Naples surveyed Hurricane Ian’s wreckage after the storm struck Southwest Florida.

On Friday afternoon, they clamored to get to back Naples in clotted traffic. Outside Port Charlotte, people parked on the highway and climbed into kayaks, using the shoulder’s flood waters to assess the damage of their homes.

Sopping mattresses, rugs, garbage bags — and in some instances, entire living rooms — lay discarded at the ends of mansion driveways on Creighton Road in downtown Naples. Sons helped fathers throw away years of possessions. Friends helped friends clean out condos on Gulfshore Boulevard, where water from the beach and bay rose to second-floor balconies.

Contents of condominiums damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Ian sit along Gulf Shore Boulevard in Naples.
Contents of condominiums damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Ian sit along Gulf Shore Boulevard in Naples. [ Jennifer Glenfield ]

First-floor doors hung open at the Bordeaux Club condo, belongings abandoned on sandy floors. The ajar elevator was host to a sea of palm fronds.

“It’s like a bomb went off,” said Steve Maichioni, 59, as he cleared out his friend’s debris-caked minivan, removing moldy clothes, golf clubs and waterlogged books.

All the cars in the parking lot were totaled.

• • •

Mitchell had just finished renovating apartment 106, making it wheelchair accessible from the bathroom to the kitchen, where his wife loved to watch him cook. The apartment had passed through two generations of Mitchells, and he had no plans to leave.

“We just need to be better prepared next time,” he said from his temporary shelter in a second-story apartment. “I’m staying right here. We’ll redo the place. It’s home. We’re not going anywhere.”

Steve Mitchell, 80, sits in a friend's second-floor condo at Venetian Bayview in Naples while waiting for the fire department to come carry him down the stairs to his first-floor condo which flooded in the storm surge during Hurricane Ian. Mitchell cannot stand or walk due to a blood clot in his legs years ago, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022 in Naples.
Steve Mitchell, 80, sits in a friend's second-floor condo at Venetian Bayview in Naples while waiting for the fire department to come carry him down the stairs to his first-floor condo which flooded in the storm surge during Hurricane Ian. Mitchell cannot stand or walk due to a blood clot in his legs years ago, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022 in Naples. [ JENNIFER GLENFIELD | Times ]

He hadn’t seen the inside of his home yet. The storm flung the door wide open, ripped carpeting from floors, soaked and scattered legal documents and congealed pills into solid blocks inside medicine bottles.

Blood flecked the stairwell walls where Bob Campbell’s skin had grated against the stucco as he and his son dragged Mitchell to safety.

“The stairs were like grease,” said Campbell, 78. “Just covered in mud from everyone trying to get to higher ground.”

Rescuers can’t move Mitchell downstairs until he’s found a new place to stay. He spent Saturday morning on the phone with no success.

“We don’t know what we’re gonna do with me,” Mitchell said. “My daughter’s house is powerless and not suitable for my handicap situation. I can’t even use the bathroom. Our condo downstairs is full of bacteria. Hotels are full, and we can’t even get a car. All our cars are gone.

“What are my plans?” he said. “I have no idea. I’m stuck here. Can’t get out.”

His wife, meanwhile, headed to the the hospital with what might be a shattered hip. Judy Mitchell, 77, slipped while scaling the stairwell to her husband’s temporary room.

“Now there’s going to be two of us in wheelchairs,” Mitchell said. “But she doesn’t have any of her medical cards, IDs, anything. They were all destroyed in the storm.”

He had heard from neighbors about the state of his apartment, what remains, what doesn’t. He thought about the sleepless nights ahead in his wheelchair. He cried.

“I don’t want to see it anyway.”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage

HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.

FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.

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.

SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen quickly after Hurricane Ian passes? It depends.

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

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