Hertz Arena shelter closes; people moved to new shelter in North Fort Myers

Published: Updated:
Hertz Arena hurricane shelter.

People who lost their homes to Hurricane Ian are being moved if they stay at the Hertz Arena shelter.

Hertz Arena is shutting down shelter operations after being open for three weeks. The people there are leaving Hertz Arena on busses and going to a new shelter at an old Publix location in North Fort Myers on North Tamiami Trail.

A state spokeswoman said it’s extra safe here. There is a Lee County Sheriff’s Office mobile surveillance unit and extra security and resources.

At the new shelter, volunteers and managers say they hope to meet every new guest’s needs.

Food, water, and shelter are all means of survival, but surviving became difficult for many after Hurricane Ian displaced hundreds in Southwest Florida.

“You want shelter. They give you a place to sleep and rest ya head, and that’s what they’re going to do,” said Louise Johnson, who is staying at the shelter.

People like Johnson have no choice but to go to an emergency shelter.

Hertz Arena opened its doors to those who lost their home in the storm surge or high winds, but the doors closed on Wednesday, and the people there were moved to a new shelter.

“This morning, we have some of our residents being transferred from the arena, and we are honored and proud to serve them. We know that this is a very difficult time for the county. For both lee and collier and really the region, so we wanted to make sure their needs are met,” said Melanie Michael, a spokesperson for the state.

Michael said inside the former Publix, there are warm beds, warm meals, and a place to do laundry.

Outside, steps away from the front door, families can find hot showers, and a little further away, FEMA representatives are there to help.

“We know this won’t be permanent. It’s temporary. We know that we can facilitate something that is home for them to get them back on their feet and those agencies like FEMA. Like the red cross. They’re right here on site, so these are people that have paperwork that’s in flux and in process, so we’re going to help them do that and make this community whole again, and that’s our goal,” Michael said.

Michael said there are no plans to close the new shelter anytime soon. Almost 300 people had checked in by Wednesday afternoon.

They will be able to facilitate more people as more cots come in. The Estero Recreation Center will also be evacuated later this week, and those people will also be moved to the North Fort Myers shelter.

There is no word yet on a solution to a long-term temporary shelter.

Giorgio Kralicek was one of the people being moved out of Hertz. Ian ruined his home and work on Sanibel. He and his dog were rescued by the Coast Guard.

“I was one of the last ones to be airlifted by the Coast Guard,” he said. “It was a horror.”

Kralicek said he has been through many hurricanes, including Charley but Ian was different.

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