Bonita Springs residents and business owners try to recover from Hurricane Ian's storm surge
After Category 4 Hurricane Ian pushed a wall of water onto Southwest Florida, some residents remain optimistic while others plan to leave the state.
Southwest Florida residents are continuing the cleanup after the catastrophic mess that Hurricane Ian's winds and storm surge made this week, including the Bonita Springs area.
Bonita Beach Road is surrounded by bay water on either side and only a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. On that street heading toward Barefoot Beach, stunned residents stuck their phones out of the windows of their slowly moving cars to record the various boats littering both sides of the street, strewn about like discarded soda cans.
Most of them probably belonged to Omar Botana, owner of Bay Water Boat Club and Rentals for 18 years.
About 50 of his vessels were swept up by Hurricane Ian's storm surge.
"This is my sixth hurricane, but this really was one of the worst," he said.
Botana estimated that about 85% of his boats scattered in all directions would be salvageable due to the storm surge’s speed, which he said actually helped to keep them intact.
“When it comes slowly, that's when the damage is the worst,” Botana said. “So many boats from the neighbor three blocks away ended [up] over here, and some of mine ended [up] over there. But it was so much water so fast, they floated.”
The boat found furthest from Botana’s business was about a quarter mile away, but he remained optimistic.
"Boats can be replaced, but lives can't. So, it's sad to see but we'll be back in business. It’s just matter of time,” Botana said.
Just a few blocks east on Bonita Beach Road is Jason Crosser's classic video game store called 8-Bit Hall of Fame, or what’s left of it. Crosser sat in a chair just outside of his shell of a store looking defeated, among large shards of broken glass, video game cases and gray mud.
“I don't even know why … I came back today because everything is trashed, but I just didn't want to sit around and do nothing at my house,” Crosser said.
He started this business nine years ago with his own personal collection, but due to the support of the local gaming community, it became a success... until Ian.
"Everything I was making from it, I was kind of just putting back into the store over the years and just building and building it and ... the building was submerged underwater, and then nine-tenths of it floated away," he said.
He had over $2 million worth of video games from the 1970s all the way to the PS-5, and only a tenth of it was insured.
"It kind of comes and goes and hits me,” Crosser said. "I used to teach history before I opened the store and I'm from Iowa so I think I'm gonna move back to Iowa for a couple of years and teach and just see and get some money built back up and then maybe open another one, but I don't know where."
Some of Crosser's classic games were found a mile down the road, but they were ruined by salt water, or crushed by passing cars.
Sarah Simon, who was riding bike along Bonita Beach Road to take a break from cleaning up flood damage in her Bonita Shores home, is not letting this storm push her out of Florida. She just moved there with her daughter from California five months ago.
"Loved it when we got here — still love it, but we're just so sad to see the devastation and we're heartbroken for the people and the losses and the beauty that's right now in shambles," Simon said, adding that she's worried about how demand for contractors in the area will slow their recovery.
At the corner of Bonita Beach Road and Hickory Boulevard, Steven Blumrosen was eyeing the damage to Barefoot Beach for the first time since he evacuated from his Bonita Springs condo in his R-V to a rest stop off I-75 with about 15 other people.
"The beach is supposed to be out on the beach. And here it is in the middle of the street. I don't know what to expect as I get further. It's two miles to my home,” Blumrosen said.
Law enforcement was blocking the road to cars and only residents with proper identification could walk on past Barefoot Beach. From that vantage point, you could see a pile of debris where the locally famous hangout and restaurant Doc’s Beach House used to reside.
WUSF could not get close enough to Doc’s to check on it and the phone number is no longer working, but locals were speculating that it likely needs to be rebuilt.
Blumrosen said when his dad was alive, he and his family used to regularly walk together from their condo to Doc's.
“I'm devastated," Blumrosen said. "I felt like I had the kind of shock that people have in wartime when they have to go through things they are not used to.”