By Mandy McMahon, American Red Cross
Three weeks after Hurricane Ian made landfall along Florida’s Gulf coast, the American Red Cross continues to serve communities throughout Southwest and Central Florida. Hundreds of people are still relying on shelters and support following the storm.
“We have a long journey ahead. It’s just begun. Even after three weeks there’s still a major amount of devastation. I think it’s going to be a two-year journey,” said Christina Krieger from Stow, Ohio who came to Fort Myers Beach to help her mother pick up the pieces after her home of 22 years was flooded by the hurricane. “All her belongings are laying outside. We have to clean off all the muck and salt just to prepare it for storage while the home is rebuilt inside. It’s really hard – it’s devastating.”
Christina came to the Disaster Aid Station on Fort Myers Beach on Thursday looking for a meal while she and her mother work through the wreckage searching for salvageable items. At Disaster Aid Stations, the American Red Cross offers mobile feeding and emergency supply distribution, alongside other organizations providing essential services such as laundry and bathroom facilities for Fort Myers Beach residents where water and power utilizes are still not operational.
Residents waiting in line for a hot meal from the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle express the struggle of cleaning up an overwhelming amount of destruction caused by high winds and more than seven feet of storm surge.
“We’ve been working 18-hour days to accomplish what we can before we go back home. What the Red Cross offers for meals and extra supplies is so helpful – it’s one less thing we have to think about. We’ll try to come back in a month when maybe the electricity will be back on,” Christina describes the daunting task of helping her mother down the path to recovery. “Thank you to the American Red Cross for being here, and to everyone else along the beach who’s providing free meals. Don’t forget about us – please stay.”
Christina hopes that she can come back someday and see the Fort Myers Beach she remembers as a place of fun and relaxation. Residents seeking help at the Disaster Aid Station expressed their hope that vacationers will come back and help the island recover.
“You can see things on TV, but until you experience it firsthand and feel it, you have no idea what it’s like. We did evacuate, but when we came back, we just cried,” said Cheryl McAllister, describing her reaction to seeing the devastation to her home and community. “Everybody that sees the destruction cries because they’ve been here before and they know what it was, but we will come back. Fort Myers Beach will come back; it just takes time.”
Like so many other Floridians impacted by the storm, Cheryl calls herself fortunate despite losing her possessions that were either washed out or mangled by flood waters. Her home is still standing.
“Red Cross has been amazing. They’re so nice – they stop and ask if you’re ok and make you feel better. They’ve given us food and water,” Cheryl said as she holds hot meals to take back to her home. “We’ve been here a couple of days without any electricity, water or sewage. We come here to get lunch – we usually only eat one meal a day, which is this one.”
To date, the American Red Cross has provided nearly 1.5 million meals and snacks with the help of our partners. Additionally, more than 350,000 relief items, including comfort kits and other supplies have been provided to people in need serving more than 20,000 total households.
“We appreciate everything the American Red Cross does and every other organization that’s here helping. I thank everybody who’s helping, volunteering, who cares about us,” said Cheryl. “We’re off the news, but it’s still new and it’s still raw. It’s nice not to be forgotten.”
Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer