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Fort Myers saw some of the worst destruction when Ian hit Florida


Floridians who lived in the path of Hurricane Ian have been making the somber journey back to their homes and businesses. Some are exhaling in relief to find minimal damage. Others are finding that everything has been destroyed. That's the case for a lot of people in Fort Myers, Fla., which saw some of the worst of the storm. Tracy McMillion is the city's fire chief, and he joins us.

Chief, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

TRACY MCMILLION: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Photos out of Fort Myers are just awful. Whole neighborhoods appear to be completely destroyed. Are you able to estimate what percentage of the homes and businesses there are just now gone?

MCMILLION: Oh, wow. Yeah. We're still in the process of doing that. Yesterday, we worked really, really hard, solely trying to clear roads, work on infrastructure. We had teams out actually doing what we call damage assessment, a, you know, assessment, just looking at the different structures and trying to put a number to that. But that has not all completely been calculated or all fully been actually, you know, assessed. So we're still in the process, trying to figure that out.

MARTIN: Is there...

MCMILLION: I'd be remiss trying to guess what that cost.

MARTIN: But it's significant. I mean, is there something you have seen that would give us a sense of how bad the damage there is?

MCMILLION: Oh, yes. I mean, it totally, totally changed the face of our charming city - still very charming. But there's a lot of things as far as our yacht basin, our boat docks. There are pieces of, you know, concrete chunks, blocks, you know, probably, you know, anywhere from five to, you know, four feet, you know, in length and width that actually were moved, you know, half mile, you know, sometimes a quarter mile away from where it originally originated. There were boats that were actually on the roads, and roads that - obviously, no boats are on roads - but obviously in an area that they shouldn't even gone to. How'd they even get there?

So you could tell where the storm surge actually hit the coast area - the Caloosahatchee - and moved a lot of the different structures. You had cars that were rotated, obviously huge trees down. You know, roofs, you know, kind of collapsed - so a lot, a lot of, you know, catastrophic, you know, devastation from the storm.

MARTIN: You told another media outlet that it's your sense that most of your residents did not, in fact, evacuate. How is that affecting your operations right now, especially when it comes to rescues?

MCMILLION: Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that we think we know is that, you know, there's about 4,000 people that went to shelters, you know? And those shelters had about 40,000 people available. One of the things that we realized is that maybe there are some people that actually, you know, went to family members or, you know, people that relocated to a hotel out of town. So some of that numbers, we're still trying to work on. But as of now with our search and rescue efforts, you know, hopefully things will remain the same. We haven't really found any fatalities, and we hope to keep that in the city of Fort Myers from increasing.

MARTIN: How did the hospitals fare?

MCMILLION: Hospitals, as far as their damage assessments - we have one in the city of Fort Myers - and actually, you know, obviously, just like any other, you know, structures, sustained, you know, some type of external hits from the storm and things of that nature. But our hospital continues to hold strong.

MARTIN: How are you and your teams holding up? I mean, you are all part of that community. You are all making that journey back to your own homes to figure out what the damage has been. How are you balancing that need to serve the community and just taking care of your people?

MCMILLION: Yeah. Our - you know, one of our key mindsets and thoughts is, you know, to make sure that we take care of the folks that are taking care of others. So we're working through operational periods in which, you know, some people are most of the time forced to go rest 'cause we have to have clear heads, clear minds to be able to focus and concentrate on the mission at hand. There are, similar to myself, people that live in the city of Fort Myers, that live in Fort Myers that were impacted in some of the surrounding areas, you know?

I have a beautiful wife of 22 years who has been through this with me with many times of having hurricanes and has a great routine of handling things. I was able to go home - to my home - in the city of Fort Myers briefly and saw trees down and saw, you know, some of the damage that happened to our house, you know? And just with a conversation with her over yesterday, she's already mitigating most of it. So a lot of times, we lean on our neighbors; we lean on our family; we lean on the resources that our county provides to kind of get through this. But it's a whole effort with responders, working with the community, working with other external partners to manage what we're focusing on, but also to manage what we're going through ourselves.

MARTIN: What is your biggest challenge right now?

MCMILLION: Our biggest challenge right now is just to kind of get our human element. We still want to make sure our folks and our people have the resources. So there's many that are still without power. That's challenging, you know, both, you know, mentally. And it's challenging, you know, emotionally. And sometimes, it's even challenging physically. So we want to make sure those human element is actually taken care of to get them their needs. And the next thing after that is actually to kind of focus on the infrastructure, to ensure that our infrastructure is actually going to be able to sustain the recovery efforts that we have coming, you know, that lies ahead of us.

MARTIN: What are the biggest - what's been damaged the most when it comes to infrastructure? - just briefly.

MCMILLION: A lot of it is our coastal line. Our coastline has really been hit hard, and some of our downtown areas are really, really taken a beating. So - and these are the things that really made our city extremely charming. And some of the historic, you know, monuments actually were hurt a little bit also.

MARTIN: Fire Chief Tracy McMillion of Fort Myers, Fla.

Thank you so much for talking with us. And our thoughts are with you all.

MCMILLION: Have a good one. Thank you, ma'am. Appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.