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Bonita Springs deputy mayor on damage left behind by Hurricane Ian

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More than a week since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, the city of Bonita Springs is still assessing the damage. Deputy Mayor Mike Gibson took to Facebook Live this week to share a video of the destruction at Bonita Beach. Behind him, you can see mountains of debris, destroyed buildings, fallen palm trees, a boat strewn over the sand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE GIBSON: And as you can see behind me, this area was hit very hard by Hurricane Ian. First responders have been in the area conducting search and rescue. This is a tough time for our community. Please stay safe. And together, we will get through this.

KELLY: Well, Deputy Mayor Gibson is on the line with me now from Bonita Springs. Welcome.

GIBSON: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hi. Glad to have you with us. We just heard you describing the scene at the beach. Tell me about other parts of the city. And I know you've been out and about. How bad is the damage?

GIBSON: Well, the storm surge came up and, you know, hit the beach first. But we also have a river that goes right through the center of town. So the surge just came right up the river and flooded many houses along the river and a couple creeks that feed into the river. So as you go around the city right now, you just see basically everybody's entire life out at the street because they've had to gut their entire house. All their belongings are out there, just trash, you know, waiting to be picked up. It's horrible to see.

KELLY: Yeah. Do y'all have power back? Do you have water? Sounds like too much water. But, I mean, do you have water in the pipes?

GIBSON: Yeah. Yeah. Luckily, our local utility company, they were able to keep water for the majority of the city. They preemptively turned off water to the barrier islands just to save the rest of the city. So we never had a boil water notice or anything. Power, very, very few places had power the entire time. Most places lost power. But it's on almost everywhere, except for places where, like, trees took down the individual line going to a house, where, like, telephone poles got snapped. Things like that take a little bit longer to fix. But we're we're almost up to, I'd say, probably 90% power.

KELLY: I'm thinking you must have residents who evacuated who are now heading back to their homes or trying to figure out how to head back to their homes, which may have been damaged or even destroyed. What are you hearing from them? And do you have any advice to prepare them for what they might see when they get home?

GIBSON: I mean, it really depends on where they live. The bulk of the city, it's going to just look like a bad storm - tree limbs down, things like that, a lot of debris. It's really the people that are coming down where their houses are, right on the river or out on the barrier islands. Right now, out on the barrier islands, we're only allowing people to walk to their houses to help with looting and other things. But it should be starting Saturday. They'll be able to drive out there. We've been working with the county to get the road reinforced because when the storm surge came in, it washed away a lot of the dirt under the road. Parts of the road started collapsing.

KELLY: Right, right, right. So you're worried about sinkholes and about road accidents on top of everything else.

GIBSON: Correct.

KELLY: Yeah. Just in the few seconds we have left, the president, President Biden, was in Florida yesterday. He was announcing more aid. He said the federal government will cover 100% of costs for things like removing all that debris. Do you expect to see any of that money soon in Bonita Springs?

GIBSON: It's a process. And traditionally, it's only 30 days. Thankfully, the president's already upped it to 60. And our congressman, Congressman Byron Donalds, is working on a plan to get that up to 120 days. So I really hope that the president will, you know, stand with our congressman and try to get that done up to 120 the days, because we just had, you know, the hurricane five years ago. And, you know, it takes a while to get everything and submitted. So the extra time would be great.

KELLY: Bonita Springs Deputy Mayor Mike Gibson, thank you so much for your time. Good luck.

GIBSON: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.