Sanibel Strong

Sanibel Island is my happy place.  I fell in love with the island the first time my husband and I visited in 1986.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and appreciated the laid-back feeling of the island, which had no stop lights, no fast-food restaurants (unless you count the Dairy Queen) and no buildings over four-stories high.  The beach was natural, and full of shells.  There were just enough stores and restaurants for convenience and a huge nature preserve where we could spot all sorts of birds and even an alligator or two.  Sanibel provided exactly the relaxing and rejuvenating vacation we needed.

When our children were grade school, we began taking our family vacations on the island.  We booked only a four-night stay on our first trip down, because we worried the kids would get bored with the lack of theme parks and other kids’ activities.  But they loved it as much as we did.  My son became interested in photography and took tons of great photos, including one of an alligator on the beach. (We saw that only once, and it was safely returned to the Sanibel River.)  We’ve had many great vacations with our children, but my fondest memories are the times we spent together on Sanibel Island.

Our son and daughter are grown with families of their own, so now its usually just my husband and I when we visit the island.  There’s still the feeling of peace when we cross the causeway that connects Sanibel to the mainland, and catch that first sight of the island.  We have many favorite restaurants, and I always reserve at least two hours to browse through Gene’s Bookstore, which is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited.  We don’t own any property on Sanibel, but both of us think of the island as our second home.

As anyone with access to the news knows, Florida was recently devastated by Hurricane Ian, and Sanibel Island took a direct hit.  It was completely engulfed with water as well as battered by category-4 winds.  Many buildings are just plain gone, and the ones that are still standing have severe damage.  The causeway, which is the only access to the island, collapsed in at least four places.  There is no power, which means deadly mold will grow in the water-logged buildings.  People had to be air-lifted off the island, and most home-owners have lost everything. There are at least two confirmed deaths.

It’s hard for me, from the safety of my home in the MidWest, to wrap my mind around this tragedy that happened in Sanibel and across much of Southwest Florida.  I see the photos from drones and try hard to identify familiar landmarks.  I can only imagine the pain of those who lived and worked on the island, and the desperation they must feel as they wonder, “what now?”  I heard that the city of Sanibel is setting up an official fund for donations, and I hope that people who are able give generously.  I know I will.

I also know that eventually, the island will come back.  People will rebuild as best they can, and the time will come when the island will be open for visitors again.  It won’t look the same, because hurricanes change the actual landscape of islands.  The “old Florida” hotels with their little framed houses won’t be rebuilt that way, because they are far too vulnerable to strong hurricanes.  Many things that made Sanibel so charming are gone forever.  But I also know that when Sanibel finally recovers, it will still be a very special place.  The people who live there, work there, and visit regularly will make sure of that, because we know that the spirit of Sanibel is too strong to be destroyed.  And that’s why we love it so much….

100 thoughts on “Sanibel Strong

  1. Nature is always the boss and humans are just a speed bump at times. The devastation in Florida and the Canadian Maritime provinces have given us all a dose of reality. We have to take better care of our planet or it will take care of us and not in a good way. Praying for all those who lost loved ones. Allan

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Looking at the photos after the storm is absolutely heartbreaking. You are right, of course. It will take time, but Sanibel will be beautiful once again. Having lived on the East Coast for most of my life, it is always a scary thing when you know a hurricane is coming. Each and every storm is different. You prepare, and hope and pray for the best. One thing is for sure…communities unite and help one another.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re so right, Linda! Each storm is different, and that makes it hard to prepare for. People did the best they could, but it is still so heartbreaking. The bright spot is seeing how people are looking out for each other…..even those that live far away! When tragedy strikes, people need all the support they can get!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Everyone has their own opinion, but honestly, to me it really was a slice of heaven! I’m so sorry for what’s happened to that beautiful island and for the people and animals who lived there. I know that eventually they will rebuild, but it will take a long, long time. Thanks so much for your understanding comment…very much appreciated!!!

      Like

    • You’re right, Judy, and at this moment I’m so very grateful for my memories of that beautiful place. The new Sanibel won’t be the same, but I truly believe it will still be good and special. And I’m praying for all those who called it home!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly right! Buildings and all the rest can be replaced, but not the lives lost. I’m sorry to hear it’s up to four now. The last I checked, it was only two, but they hadn’t finished the search and rescue process then. Thanks for letting me know!

      Like

  3. I agree Sanibel is a very special place. My uncle has a house there where he and his wife spend the winter. The house in on stilts, but I think the surge was higher than that. They are safe in their summer home in Tennessee, but I am sure they are worried sick about what they will find when they can get to Sanibel. As hard as it is, the changing landscape is kind of like life…always moving forward with something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please tell your uncle and aunt how sorry I am! I hope that their house is still there and that it can be restored. I’m so glad they weren’t there for the storm, but I know their loss is likely to be so very hard. Things do change, and not always in the way we want. Prayers for all of them!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Mimi, I think “hurricanes suck” is the perfect response to what Sanibel and a big part of Southwest Florida has endured. I agree, all natural disasters suck….I believe Sanibel will come back, but it will take a long time!

      Like

    • I’m so glad you have those memories, Bev! It was a very special place, and someday, it will be again. Meanwhile, all we can do is support those who are displaced by the hurricane as best we can. Thanks for your comment!!!

      Like

  4. This post started at such a happy note it brought to me the memories of my own happy places. The island that was has been described so well I could visualise its quite streets and squares with small buildings. I was not prepared for the somber turn the events took, and I have a feeling the old charm of the paradise has been obliterated for ever. Yet, I am sure it will bounce back in a new shape and you will love it all the more for what it stands for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And I’m sorry that the change of tone took you by surprise, I sometimes forget that what is news in the USA isn’t news all over the world. It is a very tragic situation, and you’re right, some of the charm is gone forever. I can only be glad I got to experience it while it lasted. But you are also right that eventually, the island will bounce back and we will love the new Sanibel as much as we did the old one. And thank you for your comment, it’s good to hear from you again!!!

      Like

    • We absolutely will, Peter! As soon as the island is open to visitors, we will be there, even knowing it will not be as nice as before. Eventually it will look great again, but we plan to support it during the healing process as it gets there. How can we do any less for a place that has given us so much joy over the years? Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Your post evoked memories of many lovely winter vacations walking on the shell-filled beaches of Sanibel. One of my friends tells me to cherish the memories until we can return. Changes happen and I accept that reality. This change is devastating and feels unjust to the quiet way of life for so many who live on Sanibel or who visited regularly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Sanibel too! So you understand how sad we are by its loss. But I agree that change is inevitable, even the hards ones, like what has been wrought by Hurricane Ian. We will love the new Sanibel, but we will also mourn the old! Thanks for understanding!

      Like

  6. so many natural disasters everywhere … our weather has become extreme 😦

    Many donated to our flood victims in February but I’ve not heard of a single sole receiving any of that yet … best is to place it firmly in someone’s hand …

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s so sad how many people take advantage of a disaster to raise money for themselves! Believe me, I’ll look into how the city’s money will be spent before I donate. I don’t know anyone who lives in Sanibel personally, but I’ll find a way to help. Thanks for that reminder!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So sad. So much devastation. All over the world it seems there’s floods, fires, hurricanes and now this one. I’m so sorry for all those who lost homes but resilience in communities is strong. Here in Australia the people rallied together when towns were submerged. I pray for your idyllic island Ann. It sounds like a paradise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Miriam! For me and my husband, it was paradise. So far, many are rallying around the island and the area as a whole, which is so good to see. They are hoping to have temporary repairs done to the causeway by the end of October, which will really help the residents in their efforts to rebuild. They are now allowing residents on the island during the day, but they have to get there by boat. Thanks for your prayers!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought that was where you vacationed. Having experienced several disasters in our area, I know what the people are facing. Bolivar/Galveston was hit by Ike and washed away most of the houses. They have since rebuilt with better hurricane codes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It helps to hear that! When it happens to your home or an area you love, it feels like the end. But there are already plans to rebuild, and yes, the new structures will be built to hurricane codes. The newer buildings on the island are already built at least 12 feet, I think it is, off the ground, and most of them are made from concrete and equipped with hurricane shutters. There were several small complexes that had been build years ago that were small, ground level and wooden. They were charming, and families had been coming to them for years….but they’re gone, and if they rebuild the complex, it won’t look the same at all. That’s a good thing, but I know it is a loss for those who loved them!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Those are the houses that were built decades ago, before the new regulations went into place. All new houses have to be built up too, but I’m not sure exactly how high. Basically, it’s one story high, and the area underneath the house is used for parking or as a patio. That’s the same thing with the condo complexes and hotels: the old ones were ground-level, and often made from wood; the new ones are one story up and concrete. Most of the old ones were completely wiped out by the hurricane, and if they are rebuilt, they’ll be rebuild according to the new building codes. (I was surprised the first time I visited Sanibel too and saw ground level houses, so I asked about it!)

          Liked by 1 person

  9. We followed the news on Hurricane Ian and its hit on Florida very closely. The moment I heard the reports on Sanibel, just like Svet, my thoughts went immediately to you. I know you’re safe at home and others there are having it tough. But I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that it’s my Ann’s place, it’s where her heart is. I know how much Sanibel meant to you from all your previous posts as well as this one. It’s your happy place and also one synonymous with hope and healing as I remember your trips there after your husband came through his treatments. To see what this special place has suffered is very painful.

    But as you say, it will rally back from the dark. Just as you did after your husband’s illness. I love that you plan to go back as soon as it reopens to support Sanibel’s healing. Only a heart that has suffered as you have will understand how much love Sanibel needs.

    May God heal Sanibel and gently bring her to her feet once again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so very much! Even though we’ve never met in person, I do feel as if you understand so much of what I feel, and I hope that is mutual. I was surprised by how hard I took the news, since it is “just” where we vacation. But then I realized I really do think of it as a second home, and we have so many happy memories there, many with our children. As you said, it had a piece of my heart. But I know it will rebuild and that I’ll love the new Sanibel as well. It won’t look as pretty when it first opens up to visitors again, but we’ll go anyway to support the people who live and work there. It’s a real community, not just a tourist spot, and that’s part of what makes it so special!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The history of Florida hurricanes is very interesting as is the history of west coast earthquakes, heat and droughts, blizzards and ice storms! It is a testament to human endurance that we can adapt to just about anything the weather throws at us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is, Margy! Living in Florida has always had its challenges, as it’s low-lying, very hot and humid in the summer, and some of it’s natural wildlife can be difficult to live with, like alligators. One of my favorite places on Sanibel was the history museum, which showed how the people lived there before there was electricity of any kind (so not even a fan) and could only get there by ferry. On nearby Marco Island, there’s a great museum that shows how the early Native Americans lived there for years (The Seminoles and the Caloussa, although I’m spelling that last one wrong)…and it was fascinating to see how they adapted to the somewhat hostile environment. Human really are resilient!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I am sorry for the loss of your special island, Ann. We haven”t received much news here in Nepal, but we have been following the devastating path of Hurricane Ian. Sanibel holds a lot of memories for you and your family. Hopefully it will recover and bring you many more happy times in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joe! I believe it will recover…the residents there are resilient and love their special island so much….but they have a long, hard road ahead of them. It’s sad, but all we can do is help now and look to the future with hope!

      Like

  12. Heartbreaking that it was destroyed. There are so many places just like Sanibel that are suffering from all us humans being on the planet, wanting more, traveling more, building right on the beaches more… I need not say more but, when they rebuild I hope they take into consideration that climate and weather events have devastating effects and rebuild to live with the environment or to withstand the weather events. I feel for the people there who have lost so much.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is heartbreaking! And yes, the changes in the climate are making everyone rethink how and where humans live. (Take Las Vegas…why build a huge city in the middle of a desert?) But one of the things I loved about Sanibel was how much they respected nature. Yes, it is a barrier island, which means it stands in harm’s way more often than it should. But they didn’t allow high rises at all, and all buildings built within the last few decades had to be well back from the beach, with vegetation in between the buildings and ocean that maintained the beach. They also had to be built up at least 12 feet (I think, but one story) off the ground.(Can’t remember the name of the vegetation, sorry!) They didn’t have street lights because it confused the wild life. And over 1/3 of the island was a huge nature preserve which housed all kinds of plants and critters that were natural to the area. Residents were encouraged to plant only native plants. I could go on, but you get the idea. It wasn’t your typical, over-developed Florida beach community. It was a real town that did its best to respect the environment, and that was one of the things I loved about it so much! Thanks for your comment, it gave me the chance to explain the situation a little bit more, and I really appreciate that!

      Liked by 2 people

      • That is great that the community took such care to keep in living within natural means. I have never visited the island so didn’t know. But I do know that Florida from my visits over the years has a lack of concern (I feel) in the real danger of hurricanes and flooding events. It seems to me that the short term gains of tourists and retirement communities out weighed the planning of future generations and the environment. But, it hasn’t just been FL, you are correct LV is another example and I could name many more!
        No place or people are perfect so all we can do is hope that our small contributions help and not hinder.
        Stay safe and healthy.

        Liked by 1 person

    • The devastation is overwhelming to see, and I can’t even imagine how the people who live there must feel. But I really do think they will rebuild and be back…different, but still very good. Thanks for your comment, Janice!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Ellen! Writing is one way that I process my thoughts and feelings, and I was feeling very sad about Sanibel Island, and so very sorry for all of Southwest Florida. So much suffering!

      Like

  13. Ann, I never had the pleasure of visiting Sanibel Island even though I have visited the area close to it. So many areas in southern Florida and coastlines have been demolished and it is sad that so many people have lost so much due to the storm. I am thankful that my family has not been severely affected by this storm. All I can do is pray for all of the people who have been affected.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh, Ann. I’m so sorry that this beautiful place, Sanibel, which is so obviously close to your heart, has suffered so much damage at the hands of Hurricane Ian. I hadn’t heard of this island before, but from how you described it before the hurricane struck, it sounded idyllic. I do hope that it will recover in time and may become a joy to you and your family once again. My heart goes out to you, to those who sustained damage and especially to those people who lost their lives and their families. My thoughts are with you all. X 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Ellie! Yes it was a very special island…so natural and not over-developed (which is a rare thing these days). I know it will recover, but I’m feeling sad about it now. And more than that, I’m feeling so sorry for those who actually lived there and have lost their homes and jobs. It will recover eventually, I believe, and so far the outpouring of support has been impressive!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s the island I know and love. It really is dreadful right now. But they are already moving forward. As of today, residents are allowed back on the island during the day (by boat) to assess damage and salvage anything they can. And the government is saying there will be temporary repairs to the causeway that will be reopened by the end of October. That will help the residents a lot if they can do that!

      Like

  15. I’ve always liked Sanibel Island, too. Once upon a time I dreamed of living there even, but that didn’t happen obviously. As Ian headed toward it I watched from afar in horror. They’ll rebuild, but what a mess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is a mess, and I watched with horror too. Originally, they thought the hurricane would hit about 100 miles north in the Tampa area , but then it turned toward Sanibel, Cape Coral and the Ft Myers area. That explains why some people didn’t get out quickly enough, I think. Thanks for your comment, Ally!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Sanibel Strong – susiesopinions

  17. It’s just heart-breaking, isn’t it? I think I visited Sanibel once (many moons ago), but I imagine that today, it looks far different from way-back-when. Hurricanes are such destructive storms, with their tornadoes and surges of water. And you’re so right: they change the landscape forever. I remember the first time I was on the Mississippi Coast after Katrina — it’s taking ages to get back a semblance of normalcy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, some things will never be the same, and most recovery will be a long, slow process. It’s just heartbreaking. I never realized before that hurricanes actually have tornadoes too, but that makes sense. And some of the pictures of the destruction does remind me of tornadoes. One house will have very little damage and the pool cage is still intact, and the house next door has the whole roof blown off! It’s so very sad, for all concerned.

      Like

  18. Heartbreaking when something like this happens to a place you know and love, and so easy from so far away to hear of what happened without recognising the levels of destruction and of personal tragedy experienced by so many people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right. I’d hear of hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. all over the world, and while I’d feel truly sorry for those impacted, it didn’t really “hit home.” This did, even though I don’t live on Sanibel and don’t own any property there. But it was a place close to my heart, and I can’t help but grieve a little bit, even though I know that those who live there have it so much worse. Thanks for understanding!

      Like

  19. In 2008, Hurricane Ike took out the upper Texas coast. On Bolivar Peninsula, the closest thing to Sanibel Island we have, there was almost nothing left. I say ‘almost’ because one couple had build their home to resist the worst a storm could offer, and it survived. Otherwise, Gilchrist, Crystal Beach, and other small communities were just gone. It was equally if differently bad around the bays and in Galveston, but the damage to Bolivar was stunning.

    By the time ten years had passed, businesses were back and home construction was filling the empty spaces — homes built to better specifications. Today, Galveston’s better than ever, Bolivar’s filled with new homes (on stilts, of course!) and people are a lot smarter about how to develop in such areas. They’re smarter about when to leave, too — no matter what the government does or doesn’t recommend.

    I’m no Pollyanna, but I feel confident in saying Sanibel will be back. It will be different, but it may be even better. I still remember a sign I saw in my neighborhood a couple of months after Ike’s September arrival. The sign said, “Thanksgiving’s coming. Give thanks for whatever’s left.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel confident it will come back too, and that will help. It won’t be the same, but I know I’ll love it just the same!
      Sanibel has been inhabited for a long time, before the causeway was built and the only access was a ferry. So some of the older buildings were built at ground level, and many were built from wood. Later, the codes because stricter, and the houses and businesses were built up high and from material designed to withstand hurricanes. From what I have seen (first from drone photos and then from photos of residents who are now allowed to access the island to check out their properties) most of the newer buildings were damaged, but still standing. The older ones are mostly gone. There are exceptions, of course, but that seems to be the norm.
      My guess is you’re right about this being a learning experience for the future. I think part of the problem with people staying was that the hurricane was initially predicted to hit much further north, and then it took a turn to the south and people were scrambling to respond.
      Thanks so much for your comment! Seriously, it helps put things in perspective when you realize that other areas have gone through the same devastation and did recover. That’s the hope that those who live on Sanibel or simply love it need to hear!

      Like

  20. I had a trip planned to Sanibel about ten years ago, Ann, planning to walk the beaches and hunt for its famous shells. But that trip was canceled due to work demands, and I never got there. It sounds like it was lovely, and like you, I know it will be again. In the meantime, my heart goes out to those who lost so much on the island and in other parts of the state. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much for your prayers! They are needed now for sure as the island rebuilds. It is good to see the outpouring of support and compassion, as I imagine that helps give the residents the hope they need.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I really believe they will. They have already begun temporary repairs on the causeway, which will allow the workers to easily access the island in order to begin the repairs and rebuilding. That’s a hopeful sign, I believe!

      Like

    • That’s what I’m hoping! Another hurricane in the next couple of years would be so hard to overcome. They are doing a great job recovering, but it will still be a long time. Thank goodness the community spirit is so strong!

      Like

  21. It’s very sad how many lives were affected by the hurricane, especially retirees who aren’t able to recover financially or not as easily as… I know what you mean by the spirit of a place, and it will help as those in Sanibel recover.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the ones I feel the most sorry for are the many retirees who moved to Florida to live out their lives and have lost everything! I don’t know how they’re going to find the funds to rebuild, because insurance and FEMA never give enough to really do that. Thankfully, Sanibel has a strong community spirit and I think they will look after those who need help (they already had some housing that was designated for lower-income people), but there were so many people in Southwest Florida who lost their homes!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Sanibel was hit so hard by the hurricane and remains a favorite memory for me of a family camping trip one year, we drove from Wisconsin to Florida at Christmas, and stayed one night in a motel on Sanibel. Oh the seashells.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the sea shells were just incredible! We love the island, but shelling on the beach was our favorite activity. I’m glad you got to stay on Sanibel before the hurricane changed it. It will come back, but it won’t be exactly the same. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.