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Guest Column
A note from a Sanibel evacuee | Column
My family is safe, but what a world of difference between pre- and post-Ian.
Part of the causeway to Sanibel Island, the only access by car, was collapsed by Hurricane Ian.
Part of the causeway to Sanibel Island, the only access by car, was collapsed by Hurricane Ian. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Oct. 5

First, I need to report that my wife and I (and our two adorable kitties) are among the lucky ones. We evacuated Sanibel Island when Hurricane Ian decided to take a right turn away from Sarasota and Tampa Bay to pay a destructive visit to the barrier islands of Lee County.

Thanks to the generosity of friends, we had a safe place off the island to ride out the ferocious winds and storm surge. I’m sure our experience has been replicated. We all feel the generosity and affection of family and friends especially when disaster hits. So many, from around the country, have responded — come stay with us; we have an extra room.

Howard Simon
Howard Simon [ Provided ]

Others, though, have not been as lucky. Others lost their lives (four on Sanibel as of this writing), their homes and, for people who work on the Island, their livelihood.

People think of Sanibel as an idyllic vacation spot, which it is — but it also is a community of almost 7,000 residents. Like all of our neighbors, we are concerned about whether we still have a home. We put so much effort, love and whatever small treasure we have into this home of our dreams. We have seen aerial photos courtesy of NOAA showing that our house appears to be standing, but of course that doesn’t tell us anything about internal damage from wind and storm surge.

Anxiety and waiting takes its toll. Due to the destruction of the Sanibel Causeway, no one even knows when we will be able to get to the Island to see how much damage our homes have suffered — and to prevent further damage.

Sanibel officials, including the mayor, council members and city manager, who are our neighbors and friends, are focused on rescuing people who rode out the storm. There is no water, sewage or electrical services, so it’s not safe to be there, and roads need to be cleared. City leaders are working hard to devise some arrangement to ferry people to the Island to check on their homes and, if structurally sound, to retrieve belongings. All of that takes time — we just don’t know how much time.

We sit nervously and wait.

The world for us is divided between pre- and post-Ian, with much of the pre-Ian world so irrelevant to the hardships people are facing post-Ian.

Ian hit Florida as the political season heads toward the midterm elections, and what I saw on TV sitting at home in pre-Ian complacency seems so discordant after Ian’s deadly and destructive visit.

Like many, for decades I’ve been subjected to a barrage of misleading and manipulative TV ads by politicians of all stripes. But it is hard for me to think of any that were more disgusting — and now so irrelevant to post-Ian life in Florida — than the bombardment from Sen. Marco Rubio, who really seems to need a long vacation and a new job.

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Along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who travels the state peddling focus-group talking points that schoolteachers and librarians are indoctrinating, grooming and sexualizing your children, Rubio was trying to scare folks with absurdities like schoolteachers are “turning boys into girls.” Really? This truly has been the silly season.

Are we so cynical that we are simply accustomed to these inanities from politicians — and their hypocrisy? Shouldn’t it affect our judgment of their character that then-Congressman DeSantis voted against federal aid for those in the northeast who were ravaged by Super Storm Sandy because, as he said at the time, the aid package reflected an irresponsible “put it on the credit card mentality.” Now that he is requesting federal aid for Florida, he’s dropped “Let’s go Brandon” and is all “Dear Mr. President.”

I recall pre-Ian life in front of my TV watching Rubio spout far-right talking points that policies advanced by Democrats — is he referring to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act that helped small businesses get through the pandemic? — were turning our country into despotic Cuba. His over-the-top fear-mongering hits an especially discordant note in post-Ian Florida.

As we labor to recover from Ian there will be analyses and recriminations about preparedness, evacuation warnings and the abysmal state of property insurance. In the meantime, the politicians should junk their scary talking points about government being your enemy. Maybe we can finally put to bed Ronald Reagan’s snarky mantra that the nine most terrifying words in the English language being “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” which is especially offensive in the face of disasters like Hurricane Ian.

Howard L. Simon served as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida from 1997–2018. He is now president of Clean Okeechobee Waters Foundation Inc.

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