Fort Myers Beach man to build $350k home for Hurricane Ian victims

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Can the character of pre-Hurricane Ian Fort Myers Beach be saved? In our special series, “A Man With a Plan,” we’re profiling the rebuild of the barrier island town through the eyes and experiences of a local builder. He says the answer is yes—one family at a time.

Destroyed homes on Fort Myers Beach. (Credit: WINK News)

Every one of these gutted homes and piles of rubble has a story. Some are heartbreaking, others traumatizing.

“My neighbor tried and tried leaving. He didn’t make it, to say the least,” said William Dean Simmons.

All of them life-changing.

“My dad always said if money could fix it, it’ll be OK. We just have to find enough,” said Kathy Dziat, wiping away the tears.

As Fort Myers Beach slowly rebuilds, some wonder if the old charm and barrier island vibe will be lost.

“Disasters like this can bring out good and bad,” said homeowner David Jute.

Tammy Drake. (Credit: WINK News)

Tammy Drake sees the good. She’s a bartender at Wahoo Willie’s, one of the first restaurants to re-open after the storm. Tammy has lived on Fort Myers Beach for 27 years and can’t imagine her life anywhere else.

“Oh, this is home,” said Tammy. “The whole island, the community, the water, the weather, the family.”

Her sense of humor and optimism speak volumes—amazing—once you see what she lost during Ian.

Tammy Drake’s home underwater during Hurricane Ian. (Credit: Shared with WINK News)

This picture was taken near the height of the storm. Look closely, and you’ll see only her roof standing above the surge.

“Watching everything float by and watching your whole life wash away… it’s traumatizing,” said Tammy.

Tammy Drake’s gutted home on Fort Myers Beach. (Credit: WINK News)

This gutted, broken shell is all that’s left.

CĂ©line: “When you see your home now…”

Tammy: “I don’t look at it. I don’t even look over. Honestly, I think any anger I have towards this whole situation, I feel towards my house. You know what I mean? Everything else is kind of replaceable, but that family unit and home and, you know, the place to lay your head and just feel all the feels is just, it’s gone.”

Tammy is a single mother of two daughters. Her youngest rode out the storm with her at a neighbor’s house.

“She’s traumatized,” said Tammy. “Her dad has her in therapy.”

Tammy is currently staying in a neighbor’s trailer with their two dogs. She says Maddy needed far more stability and structure, so she’s currently staying with her father in Seattle. That loss hurt this mother the most.

“After losing everything and watching her go, that was rough,” said Tammy. “She’s the one that has, you know, she’s my sidekick. She’s always with me.”

Beach builder Joe Orlandini knows this for a fact. He lives nearby and saw their bond first hand.

“Her daughter was very upset. I could tell it was traumatizing to her,” said Joe. “Her daughter will not come back until there’s a new house here and a house that is not on the ground.”

When Ian hit, it hit hard. Tammy simply could not afford property insurance on her salary. Without it, Tammy had no idea how to raise the money to rebuild. In comes… a man with a plan.

“I had a supplier reach out to me and offer to donate supplies, and that’s when the idea came to me,” said Joe. “I decided that if we gathered up enough support, maybe in a situation like Tammy’s, maybe we could get enough support to do an entire house.”

He says a neighbor loved the idea and offered to help. “He says, ‘Hey, I’ll help you. I’ll give you money. What do I have to do?'”

More neighbors came forward, and Joe grew even more confident this plan could work.

He says it’ll cost about $350,000 to rebuild this home to the latest hurricane codes.

“Of course, I have some additional work to do,” said Joe. “I have to find some other supplies, things like cabinets and countertops and an assortment of probably all the interior stuff. We haven’t secured a roof yet, but I’m sure I can find someone to help there. I feel we have enough that we got to a point that … we’re going for it.”

Joe wanted to break the news to Tammy while she was at work surrounded by friends and family in this tight-knit community. I insisted we tag along.

He was more than willing to have us there because he sees Tammy’s story as not just inspirational but also motivational for others in the community.

“I think she’s.. I expect her to probably cry,” said Joe, as we walked up to the restaurant. “She’s probably going to be overwhelmed.”

Joe: “We’re going to build you a new house.”
Tammy: “Are you kidding me?
Joe: “Would you be OK with that?”
Tammy: “Yeah, I’m OK with that. Seriously?!?”

Tammy Drake and Joe Orlandini embracing after he gives her the news her home will be rebuilt. (Credit: WINK News)

As Tammy gave Joe a big hug, her neighbors, who gathered at the bar to celebrate the news, erupted in applause.

“I’m in shock. I’m shaking like leaf,” said Tammy. “He’s going to bulldoze and rebuild. I’ll have a home my girls can come home to.”

Joe didn’t tell her how much this not-so small gesture would cost.

CĂ©line: “$350.000.”
Tammy: (long pause) “That’s huge. Way more than I’d ever deserved.”

Tammy says it was humbling and heartwarming to find out neighbors are also pitching in.

“It just says so much about this community,” said Tammy. “Oh my gosh. I mean, that’s, that’s what’s keeping me here! You know, it, it’s just how everybody just pulled together, and there’s so much love here.”

Tammy couldn’t wait to share the news with her girls.

Tammy: “Good morning!”
Joe: “Hi Maddy, How are you?”
Tammy: “We have a surprise for you. Joe, and our other neighbors, are going to help build us a house.”
Maddy: “Amazing!”
Tammy: “Isn’t it amazing? And you’ll have your own room again with all your mermaids!”
Maddy: “Joe is the best neighbor.”
Joe: “I didn’t hear…”
Tammy: “You are the best neighbor.”
Joe: “You’re welcome, Maddy. We’re actually going to send you some pictures of it so you can see the house being built.”
Maddy: “Good idea!”
Joe: “… so you can see your new room.”
Tammy: “And it’ll be up high, so it’ll never flood again.”
Tammy: “Aw. she’s got the happy giggles.”
Maddy: “I’ve got the happy giggles.”

For Joe, sometimes the plan is about what it means, not what it costs.

CĂ©line: “You changed someone’s life today.
Joe: “I did.” (long pause) “It’s not gonna happen.” (long pause) “Not gonna cry. Not gonna do it.”

What Joe will do, is make sure this family is in their new house by the holidays. You can count on us to follow this story all the way home.

If you have a story you’d like me to cover, email me at celine.mcarthur@winknews.com. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @CelineTVNews.

You can find more of CĂ©line’s coverage of Fort Myers Beach’s recovery in the stories below:

The future of Fort Myers Beach: The man with a plan

Many of you closely follow what’s happening on Fort Myers Beach, especially if you live or work there. Decisions made now and in the near future about how to rebuild will impact everyone with a stake on this island. “I’m sorry for being so emotional,” says Fort Myers Beach resident William Dean Simmons. It isn’t […]

The future of Fort Myers Beach: The personal side of progress

It’s been just over three months since Hurricane Ian devastated Southwest Florida. For some in Fort Myers Beach, the aftermath has been the most challenging time of their lives. WINK News is profiling the rebuild of the barrier island town through the eyes and experiences of a local builder. In part one of the series, […]

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