Communities torn to shreds by Hurricane Ian are relentlessly working on getting their homes and lives to what they were before the storm.
The recovery will be long and undoubtedly tricky, but at some point, we will get there. Charlotte County embodies the comeback of Southwest Florida.
But make no mistake; Charlotte County still has more work to do.
Tarps still cover roofs, many homes are inhabitable, and there’s still debris in some places. But like everywhere, the people are persevering.
And nobody embodies that better than Mark Ray, an Englewood man whose story touched our hearts in the days after Ian. WINK News caught up with him to see how he’s doing.
Six months ago, Ray walked WINK News through what was left of his mobile gardens home in Englewood.
“Complete devastation,” Ray said referencing what he saw the day after the storm. “Just everything gone. I just shocking. Surreal. It’s something you see on TV, you don’t expect it to be you.”
“It’s just hard to believe it’s gone. Everything,” Ray said.
Ray’s home had been in his family for generations, but after Ian, was gone.
“Our house that you were interviewed in, is completely gone and hauled away and an empty lot basically, sitting there,” Ray said.
But Mark and his partner Evelyn are still in the Englewood neighborhood, making a fresh start down the street.
“This place right across the street from my cousin’s. there was for sale sign on it. And it had sustained damage. And it’s, it’s got issues, but it served our needs and is serving our needs,” Ray said.
“It’s definitely starting over. Not necessarily what we wanted to do, but you do what you have to do,” Ray said.
Like so many Ian victims, it’s tough dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes. And even though their insurance company came through, Ray said FEMA didn’t.
“The person behind us in mobile gardens, you know, they actually got considerably more money than we did from FEMA, because they had no insurance. And it’s almost, you know, it’d be better off without insurance, but you can’t live life like that,” Ray said.
Still, six months later, Ray looks back on the storm and considers himself lucky.
“People got a lot worse than us…a lot of for sale signs in this neighborhood. People I didn’t know that, you know, their lives are changed and probably won’t ever be back to Florida,” Ray said.
He said the new year brought a fresh start, and it’s one he intends to make the most of as he builds his new life.
“It couldn’t have came fast enough…Just like everybody else, we’re ready to put that year behind us…We celebrated New Year’s. And so far, it’s been 100% better,” Ray said.
Ray said his best advice to anyone trying to rebuild their life is to take things one step at a time. Explaining that trying to take it all on at once can be overwhelming.
He also wanted to thank the generosity of many people who found the Go Fund Me page his family set up after the storm and donated. Ray said it’s been a beautiful demonstration of the kindness of the Southwest Florida community.