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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.

A pontoon boat that's stuck on pavement near the street is being grabbed from above with a mechanical pully system by two men in blue shirts. The owner stands in front of the boat wearing a white shirt, khaki pants, blue hat and sunglasses.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media
About 50 of 80 rental boats, owned by Omar Botana (white shirt), were scattered across Bonita Beach Road after storm surge from Hurricane Ian caused them to travel in random directions.

“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.

Man with short brownish hair is in white shirt with a blue and yellow race car on it and khaki shorts. He's looking off sadly to the distance sitting on a chair just outside of his destroyed store. Surrounding his feet are mud, video game consuls and video games.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media
Jason Crosser has owned 8-Bit Hall of Fame in Bonita Springs for nine years, until Hurricane Ian swept through, clearing out his classic video game inventory.

"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.

Woman with short blonde hair wearing a gray, white and black dress riding a purple cruiser bicycle along debris-filled streets.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media
Sarah Simon said her home in Bonita Shores had about two feet of water outside and into the garage, and about a foot of water in the house she recently purchased 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.

Man in a blue collared shirt and black pants standing in the middle of a sandy street with piles of sand as tall as cars behind him clogging up Bonita Beach Road.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media
Since coming back to Bonita Springs from evacuating, Steven Blumrosen has seen a car that had been pushed into a railing, boats up on the street instead of in the water, and pieces of cement that had fallen from buildings. "I had expectations of devastation, and they're being met," he said.

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.”

Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.