Home / More than a month after Iona tornado, victims still see no financial relief in sight

More than a month after Iona tornado, victims still see no financial relief in sight

Reporter: Sydney Persing
Published: Updated:

Frustration is mounting for people whose homes were ripped apart by tornadoes. Not a lot has changed for those living in the Century 21 mobile home park in Iona since the twisters hit on January 16.

Last week, FEMA dealt the victims a crushing blow with no money from the federal government to help.

Some of the homeowners have no roof, no, doors, no cars, and some with no money to fix it.

“I pray for a miracle. That’s what we pray for,” said Joyce Schlegal, one of the victims. She lost her family home of 40 years in the tornado and has not seen a miracle yet. “We had a beautiful Christmas Tree with Red Hat ladies in there.”

She said nothing’s been positive about replacing and no government help, federal or state. “Nothing has been positive. It’s been like a waiting game. And I don’t know how long we’re gonna have to wait.”

Craig Fugate was once in charge of FEMA and before that, in charge of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management.

He said, “This was always the hardest part of the job – to be frank with people.

When he worked for Florida he said he asked for FEMA’s help. Sometimes he got it. Sometimes FEMA said no.

He explained, when he worked for the feds he was FEMA. Sometimes he gave aid. Sometimes he said no.

FEMA said no to Florida’s request for help for the tornado victims. Fugate said that’s just the way it goes.

People like Schlegal will have to wait even longer.

He does not expect FEMA to reverse its decision on Florida’s appeal. “Unless you have new information, it’s unlikely to change the outcome. I think we need to be upfront with people that if you didn’t have insurance, it’s unlikely you’re going to be made whole.”

And being made whole is steep. For the Schlegals, it amounts to $100,000.

Cathi Cimenaro lived there and said she was too drained to talk on camera after calling and calling and calling her insurance company all day. But she did say, it’s costing her probably close to $75,000 to 100,000.”

The state and Lee County have touted lists of charities and agencies available to help. And one of the victims said she got gift cards galore.

Gov. Ron Desantis launched an online donation portal to raise money for the hardest-hit victims.

The county said its collective group of agencies and charities helped 172 families. We reached out to each for specifics as well as ones mentioned by the Division of Emergency Management

In the table graphic below are the agencies we’ve reached out to along with their responses. The organizations without information have not gotten back to us.









I am in receipt of your inquiry. APD did not have anyone impacted by the Southwest Florida tornadoes last month so we did not need to provide any services.


We held a mobile pantry distribution on January 22, 2022 (which means that our food bank team worked the distribution). We distributed a total of 41 kits at that distribution (presumably to 41 families). This was held at the Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers. We had food bank team members sit in on the EOC meetings so that we knew more about the scope of the need and share how we can best respond to the tornado which is to say that we coordinate our efforts through the EOC.

We are not knowingly working with those hit by the tornadoes but we did leave behind an additional 45 kits to ensure that there was plenty of food available for families who couldn’t make the distribution.


52 total staff and volunteers responded from the South Florida Region of the Red Cross. These staff members and volunteers were primarily on the ground with a few that responded virtually.

Emergency financial assistance, recovery planning, disaster mental health and health services, disaster spiritual care, comfort kits, disaster kits, daily meals. Assisted over 170 clients total.

We have completed our response efforts for this disaster.


The Tax Collector, Noelle Branning, personally went to the multi-agency assistance event and had approximately 7 staff members from her office there to answer questions and guide residents. For the safety of our employees, we did not visit the actual location of the damage. The type of assistance that we offer has to be done at our offices because of the official state computer systems that we use. We waived appointment requirements at all of our service locations, giving tornado victims priority service to replace important documents (mobile home titles, birth certificates, vehicle registrations, driver licenses, etc).  We were also happy to waive the transaction fees for all affected residents. Our office was/is able to provide information on what documents are needed to replace other documents (example:  ID documents needed to replace drivers license, etc).

 On the day of the multi-agency event, we were able to provide information and next steps to many residents that were affected by the tornados. We are still working with families to provide them expedited service (no appointments) to replace any documents/ID that they need.  Other agencies reach out to us when they are helping a family that needs our services and we coordinate with the family and the agency in making sure they are taken care of.

Overall, I don’t have any numbers.  They have come in to any of our service centers and we have no way of drilling down specifically to know if they were part of the group affected by the tornados.


The Multi-Agency Resource Center has closed, but Human & Veteran Services has a dedicated staff person with whom residents can still connect by calling 239-533-7900, emailing ionatornado@leegov.com or going to www.leegov.com/storm.

 The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is an example of a program the county staff person makes tornado-impacted residents aware of. You can learn more here: https://www.leegov.com/dhs/assistance/financial

Regarding Lee County Solid Waste:

 The county opened a self-drop off site at A&W Bulb Road for residents who wanted to dispose of debris and horticultural waste.

 The county brought in a special contractor to clear tornado debris from impacted areas.

Regarding Public Safety / Emergency Management:

Staff continue to keep in touch with the management at the trailer parks to ensure information about resources is being shared.

Additional information:

At the Multi-Agency Resource Center, Lee County staff and partnering agencies successfully completed about 170 needs assessments and collaboratively developed an outreach plan for individuals that continues.

Impacted residents who need to rebuild post-storm can contact the Lee County Department of Community Development. Each damaged home presents a unique situation. Residents are encouraged to talk with staff before beginning to rebuild and should ensure any contractors they hire are licensed and insured. County staff is available to guide residents through the process. Call 239-533-8329 and select Option 2; email eConnect@leegov.com or visit www.leegov.com/dcd.


Yes, participating agencies serve the Lee County area.  Yes, MARC (multi agency resource) was set up in person at the Wa-ke Hatchchee Recreation Center Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 pm beginning January 16th for about 2 and half weeks.   This site was chosen for convenience for the victims of the tornado.

Goodwill helped with the intake and linkage and referral, and from there we provided gift cards so people could shop in our stores for whatever they needed. In addition to helping with intake, Goodwill handed out over $900 worth of gift cards to 12 different families who indicated they needed clothing and other necessities.


(Lee) United Way assisted with Publix gift cards for cleaning supplies, toiletries, and additional food needs.  United Way 211 has also shared other community resources such as free tax preparation and filing and where to get other assistance.

The United Way School Resource Center supplied one student who lost everything with two large boxes of brand new clothing, undergarments, shoes, and hygiene products.

United Way partners with Collaboratory  with the SWFL Relief Fund. United Way is prepared to assist residents with unmet needs from the affects of the tornado. United Way is a part of the long term recovery committee to help determine the ongoing needs and coordination of efforts.

The United Way Volunteer Center stands ready to organize volunteers where needed.

(Additional info from Charlotte) funding for rent mortgage and assistance through case manager….


Through our presence at the MARC, we met with tornado victims, assessing their needs and providing emergency food and clothing vouchers to those who requested.


Through the CCUSA Short Term Emergency Grant, our agency served disaster survivor clients with financial assistance in the form of gift cards, rent, and/or utilities payment assistance. We utilized our private donations to supplement CCUSA funds

Our disaster relief team consists of a director, two case managers, two volunteers.

We assisted 23 families in Lee Count at Tropicana, Century 21, and another neighborhood.

Our team has conducted 19 home visits. Our team was also present at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) at Wa-ka-Hatchee Parks and Rec (WKH).

We have provided financial assistance in the form of gift cards, rent, utilities, and other payment assistance; we assisted 23 families and our work is ongoing.

We are still working with disaster survivors. Families are still struggling.  Research shows disaster survivors’ recovery takes years, in particular individuals who are on a fixed income. Our service to survivors depends on funding. Historically the long-term recovery for disaster survivors takes years, they have a long road ahead of them and they will need the community’s assistance to walk with them through their journey of recovery. The cost of home repair is high, their income is low.




We had approximately 30 volunteers assisting in both Lee and Charlotte counties.  Those volunteers worked in the MARC, and they also have been working in the community by tarping roofs, doing minor repairs, assisting with debris cleanup, and providing spiritual and emotional support.

They have been there since the Tuesday after the tornado and remain in the area.

In addition to the items mentioned above, we have provided gift cards and temporary housing.  We’ve also been able to connect them to our local churches for additional supports – warm meal or shoes and clothing.

 So far, we have been able to assist approximately 30 families.

We will continue working with families.  We have been awarded a grant through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to provide Case Management and Volunteer and Construction Coordination.  By working with partner agencies, we hope to have the ability to support the survivors with their unmet needs.


Debbie Sanford, Program Director, and I (Jewish Family Services) were at the Multiple Agency Resource Center (MARC) for several afternoons between Jan. 15-24. The Jewish Federation had a table there and we talked with most of the people who came to the MARC for their intake/assessment.

Debbie and I did visit the Tropicana Mobile Home Park in Fort Myers on Friday, January 14th, five days after the tornado hit, to hand out gift cards and see if there were people we could assist with smaller repairs. Here is a link to the article I wrote about the Federation’s involvement. Feel free to use anything. Debbie also visited Port Charlotte and handed out gift cards.

We bought a window A/C unit for someone whose A/C was ruined. We paid for one woman’s veterinarian visit for her guide dog, who was not doing well after the tornado. We handed out $1500 of Walmart and RaceTrac gift cards at the MARC and also in the mail. We had handouts at the MARC letting people know that they lived in the zip code that The South Fort Myers Food Pantry Coalition served and there was fresh food, as well as canned goods, distributed every Monday.

We’ve assisted approximately 25 families.

Lee County created a spreadsheet featuring a lot of information for the people who went to the MARC for an assessment. Some of the information on the sheet shows the unmet needs for people and I am going through that list to see if/how the Federation can assist with smaller repairs, oxygen supplies, etc.

We have some money left from donations, and I think we will spend it on the people who are listed on the spreadsheet. Our community was INCREDIBLY generous with their donations.

Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more humble, a catastrophe like the tornado occurred and I was stunned by the PTSD of those affected and the generosity of spirit of those helping.

Thank you for your interest.