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Rebuild again or leave? Hurricane Ian might have blown snowbirds and transplants from New England back north.

Fort Myers Beach was one of the hardest-hit regions last week. The storm's fury was unexpected by many.Johnny MIlano/NYT

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Steve Stevens paused to look at the stacked, wrecked remnants of fencing behind his house, the tiles ripped from the roof, his lanai and pool scarred by 150 mile-per-hour winds.

“I’ve been through two hurricanes in five years, and I’m nearly 70 years old,” said Stevens, a former Hyannis resident who bought his home in this storm-ravaged city in 2010 but is now considering moving again, to somewhere north and out of the path of the next big storm.

“The heat I can put up with, but not the hurricanes,” he said. “I don’t want to go through this again.”


That’s a decision many New Englanders who relocated to the Fort Myers area are reluctantly facing after Ian’s destruction last week, just five years after Hurricane Irma walloped sections of the state. This part of Florida is particularly popular with transplants who, fleeing New England’s cold, have been attracted by its Gulf beaches, pleasant winters, and Red Sox spring training.

The possibility of catastrophic hurricanes has rarely been a deal-breaker for them.

“One storm, you get through it, but who’s to say we won’t get another one in a year or two,” said Stevens, 66.

The 65-year-old man who lived in this demolished building and owned one of these boats rode out the storm in Fort Myers, Fla. — barely.BRIAN MACQUARRIE

His brother, Paul, might have had enough, too. Sitting in Steve’s open garage Tuesday, gazing on a street strewn with sheared tree limbs, Paul recalled how Irma had destroyed his trailer, tossing it into a pond and rendering him homeless.

The Maine native moved in afterward with his brother, and now this.

“It was scary. The windows started to shake. I’d never seen gusts like that before,” Paul, 65, said of Ian. “I don’t know, maybe climate change is happening.”

Steve Stevens’ wife, Marcie, is temporarily staying in another state with several of their grandchildren, while the two brothers manage day by day without electricity and water.


President Biden toured the area on Wednesday with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as the potential 2024 presidential rivals visited homeowners and business owners still reeling from the hurricane, which killed at least 100 in Florida.

Biden predicted that rebuilding Southwestern Florida will take years. In the last week, 4,000 federal emergency workers have rescued 3,800 people and knocked on 70,000 doors.

The federal government also has doubled, to 60 days, the amount of time in which it will cover all costs for search and rescue, shelter, and other emergency needs.

“We’re not leaving until this is done, I promise you that,” Biden said in Fort Myers.

As the stranded continue to be rescued, power is being restored in the area up and down the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers, where Karen Briggs and Jens Bang of the North End of Boston need only look out the seventh-floor window of their waterfront winter condo to see evidence of Ian’s devastation.

Karen Briggs and Jens Bangs of the North End, and the destroyed yachts thrown up against their condo tower on the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers.BRIAN MACQUARRIE

Large, expensive yachts were tossed around like bathtub toys, flung from the marina onto the condominium grounds and slammed against the ground floors of high-rises. Splintered, jagged pieces of the docks also were dumped on the property, joining heavy chunks of thick concrete scattered about like Lego bricks.

“See the power of this storm?” Bang said. “I consider ourselves extremely lucky.”

The retired couple flew to Florida on Sept. 27, arriving on the same day that Ian later plowed ashore. They wanted to check on their condo, which was renovated recently, and decided to chance the weather.


The hurricane initially had been predicted to wallop Tampa Bay, more than 100 miles to the north.

“We said, ‘Let’s go, it’ll hit Tampa. That’s two hours away,’ " Bang recalled.

But the storm instead veered south, making Fort Myers a bull’s-eye, and by 3 p.m. their power was gone.

As the hours passed, a false alarm prompted condo residents to evacuate their units, huddling in the lobby until an all-clear was announced. Afterward, deep into the night, the monster storm shook their 16-story building.

“It was pitch black, and we had no idea what was happening,” Bang said. “The wind was so ferociously strong that I was scared as hell. The power that it must have had to move things is amazing.”

One week after the storm, the couple remained without power, resorting to pretzels and potato chips, some milk and cheese in an ice-chilled cooler, and water from a garden hose at the base of the building.

“You go in the shower and pour the water all over yourself,” Briggs said with a smile. “In the meantime, I’m hoping to lose a pound or two.”

The weather in Fort Myers was balmy and beautiful this week, a rejoinder to the night-long fright that they experienced recently.

“We blessed ourselves afterward and said, ‘Thank you, God,’ " Bang recalled.

The nightmarish weather also reminded them, ironically, of their decision a decade ago to sell a waterfront home in Scituate, Mass., where a succession of nor’easters had damaged their property over the years.


“I said, I’m getting too old, I can’t put up with this stuff,” Bang said.

“So, what do we do?” Briggs added. “We’ve now endured one of the biggest storms ever in the United States.”

But still, they intend to remain seasonal residents of Southwest Florida, although Briggs said that climate change, linked to increasingly severe storms, has become “a universal problem.”

“If another one happens in five years, then a 500-year storm is getting more frequent,” she said.

The hurricane also has affected Red Sox operations in Fort Myers. JetBlue Park, the team’s spring-training site and a destination for New Englanders, has been turned over to multiple federal agencies during the emergency.

“As hurricane recovery and relief efforts continue,” said Abby Murphy, a Red Sox spokeswoman, “we will support our Red Sox employees, families, teammates, and the entirety of Lee County as they restore and rebuild.”

But for Doug Liston, restoring and rebuilding seems like a pipe dream. The 65-year-old had flown in from Detroit before the storm, and the waterfront building he manages in Fort Myers Beach was crushed like cardboard while he rode out the storm huddled in a nearby pickup truck.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Liston, bruised, scratched, and exhausted, sitting in a beach chair beside the wreckage. “I worked all day, didn’t pay attention to the news, and all of a sudden we were ground zero.”


As Liston spoke, a Lee County sheriff’s deputy stopped his cruiser and asked Liston, who is suffering from Stage 4 colon cancer, whether he needed groceries or other supplies.

Liston thanked the officer and said that he’d been given food by other county workers, and that he was fine for now. The future, however, was another question.

“I know one thing,” he told a reporter with a wry smile. “I’m skipping chemo tomorrow.”

Across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral, questions about abandoning Florida had yet to be decided, although Steve Stevens said the storm was a terrifying ordeal for his wife, Marcie.

“I’d been trying to calm myself down, to stay cool for my wife,” Stevens said. “I’d been through Irma, and I’m thinking it will be OK. But [Marcie] was freaking out the next day.

“I kept saying, ‘We’re alive, we’re alive.’ You know, a lot of things can be replaced, but human lives can’t.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at