Pine Island and Matlacha Hurricane Ian recovery

Reporter: Claire Galt Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Heartbreak for the Pine Island and Matlacha communities as Hurricane Ian’s storm surge pummeled the area.

Tuesday, not only are we looking back, but we’re also looking forward to what’s ahead for our community.

Pine Island and Matlacha are filled with people who did not hesitate to help and lift their neighbors up, and the last six months haven’t changed that.

There’s still plenty of work to do. From people waiting on FEMA to others hoping to rebuild their life as it was.

Just over the Matlacha Pass Bridge, you’ll find what the owner proudly proclaims is the best BBQ place around. The lime green spot is hard to miss and the sizzling smoker-scented air, simply irresistible.

“Probably the best-smelling thing around this town,” John Petrus, owner of That BBQ Place, said.

That BBQ Place on Pine Island. CREDIT: WINK News

On a lawn chair in the back, likely smoking a cigarette, you’ll find Petrus waiting on his 4 p.m. open time.

“We call this the backyard here, and it’s really like eating in somebody’s backyard,” Petrus said.

A carnivorous nature, Petrus is far from vegetarian.

“If I start on a brisket I’m gonna have my hands on that brisket for over 24 hours,” Petrus said.

Petrus, originally from Ohio, but mentioned he’s got more Texas in him than any cowboy.

“I like being a dive. People are most comfortable when they don’t have to worry about what’s going on around them,” Petrus said.

Making people comfortable is second nature for Petrus. After Hurricane Ian pummeled Pine Island, “We were out here for 100 days,” Petrus said.

Refusing to rest on his laurels, Petrus took action, feeding friends, neighbors, customers, and strangers.

“The pain I’ve seen people’s eyes here on this island you know when a storm first they were lost,” Petrus said.

Handling the stress of losing his home, Petrus fires up his smoker to serve the people in the community.

“I don’t even go look at my house. I haven’t been there since the storm,” Petrus said.

He’s put together a wall of memories from the businesses around him that haven’t been able to rebuild. A shirt from Burt’s, a fish hook, and a license plate from Hooked.

“They saved this wood from the Bridgewater Inn,” Petrus said.

But how is Petrus able to help people while struggling himself? Well, when WINK News asked him, he began breaking down. In fact, he said that nobody has asked him that.

“I wasn’t expecting that… It’s something I have to do,” Petrus said. “To be a better person.”

That’s another point Petrus made clear that the hurricane helped him with.

“Very selfish before the storm. Very worried about my life, doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s what you can do for others. When you take ‘I’ out of the equation… You become very grounded,” Petrus said.

“You never go back to who you were before the storm. You’re left with that person after the storm,” Petrus said.

Petrus explained he’s been waiting for FEMA help to rebuild his home. He’s been staying with a friend for the past six months. In the meantime, he’s dreaming of a week off so he can go to Key West. He mentioned it’s one of the only places in the country he’s never been to and hopes it lives up to the hype.

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