FORT MYERS BEACH — Around the corner from where President Joe Biden was about to speak Wednesday afternoon, Louis “Smoky” Casin sat in a lawn chair under the front of a fifth-wheel trailer.
He picked at a styrofoam container of rice and sipped a cold Busch one week after Hurricane Ian, savoring a sliver of shade amid the ruins of the Sunnyland Trailer Court.
Casin, 76, didn’t see the president, who stared into cameras and promised the people of Southwest Florida the country would stay with them, even if recovery takes a “hell of a long time.”
Silver mud coated Casin’s Crocs, his dark cargo pants and the interior of his Sprinter trailer next door. The storm surge had stopped 4 inches shy of his roof.
Casin thought of the Bible and Noah’s improbable flood, how no one thought Ian would be so awful.
“Ain’t no 16-foot wave going to come on Fort Myers Beach,” he said. “Who’s going to believe that? I didn’t.”
When the water lapped against his second step, Casin thought: “Damn, this tide ain’t going down.”
He looked again. Third step. Time to go.
Casin waded about 100 feet to an apartment behind his trailer, the only two-story building around. It quickly filled with residents who hadn’t evacuated. Erika Dohle, the woman who lives there, said she lost count after the guest count hit 24 in her 1,500-square-foot place.
Casin watched through the windows as waves hurled shrimp boats and swallowed his neighbor’s trailer.
The storm battered San Carlos Island for hours. It changed the place forever.
Casin’s trailer smells like a tidal pool baking in the sun. He sleeps at a friend’s place up the road, but he doesn’t spend much time there, worried the sheriff’s deputies patrolling the island will harass him or kick him out.
Social Security doesn’t pay much, and he figures his trailer’s now worthless. He’s not optimistic about landing jobs cutting grass or washing cars anytime soon.
The plan? “See what FEMA’s going to do.”
People cross the nearby Matanzas Pass Bridge carrying bags from the gulf side of Fort Myers Beach. He hears their stories about rescuers finding bodies.
Casin doesn’t know anyone who died in Sunnyland.
His neighbors air-dried soaked possessions in the afternoon sun Wednesday. One hung a line of dirty Hawaiian shirts from a fence.
Casin kept the door to his trailer ajar. He grabbed a harmonica from the pocket by his knee.
He’d found the instrument inside his place, covered in mud like everything else. He said he’s played it for about 60 years.
He puckered his lips and raised his hands near his patchy gray beard. Then he blew a blues riff.
“Keep raining in my heart,” Casin belted, voice raspy. “Since we been apart.”
He transitioned to “The Star Spangled Banner” until he was out of breath.
Casin pointed to the center of the harmonica: Black plastic. Lucky. If it was metal, he said, the saltwater might have ruined it, too.
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
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?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.