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Patty Leon: Hoping the best for Floridians
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Patty Leon


Much like the rest of the world, I watched in horror as the devastation of Hurricane Ian on the western Gulf Coast of Florida came to light.

As a native Floridian, and Hurricane Andrew survivor, my heart sank as cameras panned across what was once Punta Gorda, Sanibel Island, Pine Island, Naples, Fort Myers and the old colorful fishing village of Matlacha — which was decimated.

I’ve spent many weekends collecting seashells on Sanibel and enjoying the quaint boutiques, seafood diners and beachside vibes of several of these Gulf Coast locations, and now a lot of that is gone.

The Gulf Coast beaches is where my dad would take us for weekend vacations quite often. My fondest memory of Dad and my first dog, April, happened on the west coast of Florida, when I was about 8 or 9. We checked into a motel, across from the bay. Dad prepped the crab traps, and into the water they went. The following morning, he checked the traps and they were loaded!

Mom started boiling the water to cook the crabs. Dad was reaching into the traps with kitchen tongs and pulling out the crabs. One by one they went into the pot, but one of them jumped out of the trap and started running across the kitchen floor. My dog chased the crab, and the crustacean went into defense mode, pinchers up and ready.

“Stay away from the crab; it will pinch your snout off,” Dad yelled at April in Spanish. April backed away. For the next 20 minutes, Dad and I chased that crab around the room. April cornered it next to the front door, and I used another pot to cover it.

“Got it!” I yelled. Dad came over with the tongs and grabbed the sucker. Then he walked outside, crossed the street and tossed it back into the bay.

“But Dad, we had him,” I said.

“That S.O.B. fought for his life, so he gets a chance to swim again,” he said, laughing.

I’m glad I have those memories, and I’m completely heartbroken to see how the storm surge flattened homes, submerged cars and created a new landscape of mud and sand. I’m saddened to see islands cut away from the mainland as bridges washed into the Gulf. It was gut-wrenching to see. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described the surge as a 500-year flood event — Biblical.

It’s going to take scores of volunteers, first responders, rescue organizations, federal and local assistance and the federal and local government working together to start the massive recovery and cleanup efforts.

In the days ahead, we will learn just how many were left homeless or worse, killed, by the storm. So far, around 100 fatalities are being reported, but that number is expected to grow.

Right now, survivors are in shock and denial. They are not sure where to start. They don’t know where to go. They have no clue what will happen next. Some may even contemplate leaving the state altogether. But those who stay will start picking up the pieces of their tossed-up lives and get right back to work on rebuilding their lives, homes, businesses and careers.

Florida will recover. Floridians have been through hurricanes many times before. They will rebuild, but it is going to take some time.

And hopefully, many new positive memories will be made to undo some of these negative memories of the storm.

Liberty County dodged a bullet this weekend. It could have been much worse. What we experienced when Irma and Matthew hit is nothing compared to what Florida and Cuba experienced last week. Ian was just shy of being a Category 5 storm. It was massive enough to cut a swath across Florida from west to east, exit the state, regain strength and head to South Carolina as a Category 1 storm. Ian will likely go down as one of the most destructive storms in Florida history, dethroning the previous most destructive — Andrew.

I wish I could jump in my car, drive down there and offer help and support. But I did my part by donating funds toward recovery efforts.

If you’re able, please consider making donations, too. You can donate to the American Red Cross here: donate/donation.html/.

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