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What the eye of Hurricane Ian left behind in Charlotte County

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Millions of Florida homes and businesses are still without power in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Lee and Charlotte counties in the southwestern part of the state are, quote, "basically off the grid." That's according to Governor Ron DeSantis, who spoke earlier today. DeSantis said the entire electrical infrastructure in those two counties is wrecked and will take weeks or longer to rebuild.

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RON DESANTIS: But we're committed to restoring the infrastructure as needed. That is not going to be an overnight task. That is going to be something that is going to require a lot of love and care, and it's going to require a lot of resources.

SUMMERS: WGCU reporter Sandra Viktorova is in Charlotte County and she joins us now. And, Sandra, you know, yesterday we called you just as the eye of the storm was exactly over your area. I know you went last night to the emergency operation center in Punta Gorda. How did things look then?

SANDRA VIKTOROVA, BYLINE: Well, ironically, as you can imagine, those emergency operation centers are building, you know, extremely strong. And you could feel the vibration of the building. And there was actually water coming in through the door. Of course, we were absolutely safe and fine. At the same time, I was worried for my friends and family who were not there safe and sound with me. My husband and my two sons were actually holding the front door for hours, trying to keep it from coming in. And I can tell you that it's a similar story that I've heard from friends, actually, who were really worried about, you know, the door being pushed in and holding on for hours. You know, coming home today was a little scary, wondering what was I going to find in the neighborhood. Trees are down, obviously. Power lines are down. I actually had to think hard about which street to turn down because, you know, street signs are down and everything just looks so different.

I had the opportunity to, you know, drive around to different neighborhoods today. I went to a mobile home community, and the mobile homes - the RVs were just tossed over like toys. There was a huge $600 million resort being built along the Peace River right in between Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. And these huge, towering cranes - very tall, like, for huge buildings - this huge building to be built was bent over like a paperclip. And we're talking really strong cranes built out of steel, just bent over like nothing. So it's been it's sort of hard to describe how much damage there is. I will tell you...

SUMMERS: You're painting a really vivid picture. Can I just jump in and ask you about the RV park? Because I understand that you talked with a woman who lives in that park. Can you tell us what she told you?

VIKTOROVA: You know, she actually said that she didn't leave because she didn't want to leave her neighbors behind. She sort of works part time at the park. And she and her husband, you know, earn some money doing that. And they're all seniors. And she just felt that she would be sort of abandoning friends. And she decided to stay with them. They stayed in the clubhouse. They all sheltered down there and they were safe. But essentially, their homes are destroyed. They're all turned over. And it's astounding when you see the structures of these steel frames and when you see these buildings that lose, you know, part of their structure, you're sort of in awe of Mother Nature.

SUMMERS: Yeah. Well, I know that you live in Port Charlotte, in the county where the eye of the storm made landfall. If I may ask you, how is your whole family doing at this point?

VIKTOROVA: I mean, it was certainly interesting. They were not telling me (inaudible) because I think they would have known how terrified I would have been. You know, knowing that, you know, the worry was whether the roof was going to hold or not. And that it's a similar story for a lot of people. You know, it's a tough decision. I talked to many people who were not sure about whether to stay or go, and I ended up finding out that a lot of people in the red zone, which is some of these barrier islands, a lot of seniors ended up not leaving and ended up calling last minute and hoping that, you know, somebody would actually then help them get out before the storm came in. And unfortunately, you know, law enforcement had to say they'd have to wait the storm out on their own.

SUMMERS: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. That is WGCU reporter Sandra Viktorova in Port Charlotte, Fla. Thank you so much, Sandra.

VIKTOROVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Sandra Viktorova
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.