Zibby Mag

The Webby Award-winning literary lifestyle destination.

Hurricane Ian Spared Our Home in Florida, Many of Our Neighbors Weren’t as Lucky

Monday, October 17, 2022

By Mark Massaro

The night before the hurricane, I couldn’t sleep. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was racked with dread about securing our home. I peered at the weather map on my phone and saw the massive red cyclone creeping slowly toward our town of Fort Myers, Florida. A light rain had already started, and we decided to ride the storm out, like locals usually do. Gentle thunder was rumbling, enough to bother our golden retriever who hunkered away in the bathroom.

Pacing around the house, checking locks and the sandbags supply, the voice in my head grew louder: LEAVE. By 3:30 a.m. I found a vacancy at the Hilton at Palm Beach Gardens, on the other coast of Florida, over one hundred miles away from where the storm would make landfall.

I crept back into our dark bedroom where my wife and infant were asleep. The storm shutters cut off all external light, turning the house into a shadowy cocoon.

“Hey,” I whispered to my wife. “Wake up. We’re leaving—we need to go.”

“What?” she said, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

“I got a hotel room.


“The storm, it’s bad. We need to leave as soon as we can.”

The next two hours were a maniacal race to get as much in the SUV as possible: kid’s toys, clothes, water, diapers, wipes, food, books, and toiletries. I was sick with the stress of determining what would be safest for my family. My wife leaned forward on the couch, pumping milk from her chest so the baby could eat on the car ride.

By the time we made it to the other coast, our phone’s emanated a high-pitched screech from the emergency broadcast system: “Mandatory Evacuation for your Area.” We made it to the hotel by 8:00 a.m., driving on three hours of sleep and a pot of coffee, and then retreated into the small room with two queen beds. We were displaced, and didn’t know when we would be able to return home, or how much destruction there would be. All that we had was in our car, like the other guests who were pulling into the parking lot behind us. Hotel luggage dollies were going in and out of the building on an endless loop.

We watched our front lawn from our Ring Camera and saw the intense winds whipping our palms trees around like elastic bands. The camera feed soon cut out. Social media stopped. The only connection we had to home was through reporters on the Weather Channel. We watched as a storm surge decimated Fort Myers Beach, just a few miles from our home. The surge erased the main road. The bars that we frequented during our wilder years were gone in an instant. I checked my Facebook and saw a friend standing chest deep in water inside their living room in Naples. And rumors that the Sanibel Bridge collapsed were spreading, a bridge that I crossed every day for six years when I worked retail on the small island, the bridge that is five miles from our home.

“I want to go home,” our son said.

“I know, we do too. But there is a bad storm happening at home now. We came here to be safe.” I said, knowing that he couldn’t mentally grasp the situation.

“Go home, storm,” he replied, shaking a frustrated fist to the gray sky.

“I know, right? Go home, storm.”

There were hushed conversations about our town circulating throughout the hotel. Patrons at the bar sat on stools with their hands over their open mouths, staring in disbelief at the news. When I waited for coffee in the lobby, I overheard another guest say, “The religious types said that Katrina punished New Orleans for being sinful. Where are they now about this?” When I took our toddler to Barnes and Noble and I met other parents in the children’s area, they mournfully paused when I said that we’re from Fort Myers: “Oh, I’m so, so sorry,” they replied with sincerity which brought on more hopelessness. And when I heard Fort Myers or Sanibel in a crowd, I reacted as if they were saying my own name.

We watched as a storm surge decimated Fort Myers Beach, just a few miles from our home. The surge erased the main road. The bars that we frequented during our wilder years were gone in an instant.

When I drove back with my son to check on our home, we found a ravaged wasteland. The traffic lights were gone, so everyone (mostly) abided by unofficial four-way stop sign rules. Businesses were wiped away, leaving just a bare foundation. Miles of cars lined up for gas. Shaky tents were set up for water distribution. I saw parts of homes on the side of the road like they were discarded art projects. Rescue helicopters dominated the sky, still finding bodies. Before I drove onto our street, I passed three overturned cars in ditches. And although the first floor of the hospital just across the street from our home flooded, our home stood unharmed.

“The bad storm broke the houses,” my son said.

“Yeah, it did.”

The trees in our yard were uprooted. It seemed like the entire landscape was covered in mud. I moved the sandbags and peeled our front door open to find the house in the exact way we left it. My coffee was still on the counter. The new toy car my son got was on the floor. Dishes were in the sink. It was like a family disappeared in an instant, leaving only the remnants of their morning routines behind.

There was no power, but my son immediately ran to his toy bin and took cars out to play with. I called my wife to let her know the house was fine but couldn’t because there wasn’t any service. Helicopters continued to circle overhead, now a permanent fixture in the sky.

A neighbor told me that I secured my house well.

“Benefit of operating in a low-level state of anxiety,” I replied.

My son and I went for our usual neighborhood walk. He jumped off the street sign laying across the sidewalk and then I carried him over random debris. The harsh sunlight reflected off the metallic storm shutters still boarding up the homes. Neighbors offered us sandwiches, water, and coffee as we passed by, which we politely declined.

Later that day, we returned to the hotel to wait for our power to be restored. I don’t know why our home was spared, but we have not begun to mentally process what just happened. I know I’m privileged, and others have lost everything; I don’t know why we didn’t, and I don’t know how to feel about that yet.

When the power was finally restored, we returned home for good and found ourselves divided into one of two camps: those who stayed and those who left. The minor inconveniences of existing in hotel limbo pale in comparison to what others endured: my neighbor told me that they were huddled on the floor in their bathroom thinking they were going to die, and our family friend had to escape through a window with their pet when the water levels started to rise.

We were served continuous reminders of the devastation. Search and Rescue helicopters shook the art on our walls, FEMA camps appeared in every available parking lot, donation centers were overrun with offerings, and the uprooted landscape was lifted and then dropped back on the town.

The evening we returned home, and after we got the kids down, my wife and I sat on our bed in absolute silence. Our minds were foggy with stress and fatigue; it was the first pause we had in over a week. Our home was okay and our children were safe, but what’s to say of the confusion and guilt that were just starting to settle in? We weren’t sure what to make of that quite yet, and I don’t know that we ever will.


Mark Massaro received a master’s degree in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on 20th Century American Literature. He is a Professor of English at Florida Southwestern State College. When not reading and writing, he can be found at a concert or with his wife and son. His writing has been published in Dash, The Georgia Review, Litro Magazine, Rain Taxi, Jane Austen Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sunlight Press, and others. Follow his literary adventures on Instagram at @bostonmahk4.