FORT MYERS BEACH

More than a week after Hurricane Ian swept through southwest Florida, search and rescue teams from across the U.S. are still combing through the wreckage in places like Fort Myers Beach to find those who may have remained.

“You know, the wreckage is phenomenal,” said Randy Sanders of Missouri Task Force 1. “We have overturned cars, destroyed houses, blown roofs all over the island.” We have boats that are in structures and getting in and out of there and making sure our teams stay safe, along with our K-9 people and our dogs, uh, it’s very difficult. It’s a slow process and it’s a big island and they need a lot of help.”

“These types of structures, beach structures that are on stilts, are a little different because if you look at this one, the first floor is completely gone,” Kelly Grassmack said of one building Missouri Task Force 1 searched in Fort Myers Beach. . “There is nothing to look for. But if there is, we will make an entrance from the stairs or [the stairs] with the stairs still intact and we pretty much methodically made our way through the first floor, the second flood, the third floor and even checked out the attics. Lofts are a big deal, so we stuck our heads in there when we had the chance.”

“This structure that collapsed is a completely different building that’s basically in the backyard of this other building,” Kathy Schiltz said as she surveyed another scene of debris.

Schiltz and Grassmack explained the usefulness of the K-9 units working with Missouri Task Force 1.

“Because of the roof collapse, these dogs are trained to find things under the rubble,” Schiltz said. “Perhaps he will not bark at what lies, but he will seek what is hidden.”

“We’ve been doing this for three, four, five days now, and we’re afraid we’re going to miss somebody, and we don’t want to do that, so when the dogs run out there, they can pick up those scents a lot better than we can, and they can find what we don’t see,” Grasmach said.

Missouri Task Force 1 spent a lot of time searching the high-rises, going up and down many flights of stairs. On Thursday, the club “Riviera” worked as a home base. They filled it with memorabilia they had collected during the search, items that had survived the storm and made it feel more like home.

“It’s hard on our families at home,” Sanders said. “A lot of people have young children, but when we go away for two or three weeks, it’s difficult. So we make sure they call home and everything is fine at home. But when something happens and they need help, Missouri wants to be the first to volunteer.”

“We’ve been here before, and it’s heartbreaking,” Grasmach said. “Part of what gives Fort Myers its charm is the old-school feel, these old beach houses and things like that, and it hurts to see that and know that it’s going to [in disrepair] a long time.”

“We talked to people who stayed and there was a woman who lost her husband, it was very sad,” Schiltz said. “Just seeing…it’s the worst thing, I mean, losing a family member, but just your house in total chaos…I don’t think they’d know where to start.”

That woman who lost her husband, Joan Knobloch, described what it was like in Fort Myers Beach when Hurricane Ian came through.

“The door slamming was unbelievable, I mean the waves were hitting them,” Knobloch said. “So the door, the big door, exploded. First one, then the other; they were blown to pieces, and then the usual door flew out. I was standing where that wrecked car was and that door just flew through the air, literally, and I screamed when it went because I couldn’t believe it.”

She says the experience still doesn’t seem quite real.

“When you look at it, it feels like you’re watching a bad movie,” Knobloch said. “It’s like something you see maybe in a movie, but you never dream you’ll ever experience it. And, you know, to survive it, I think it’s a miracle.”

Although Knobloch is lucky to have survived and her home is doing well, she still has to live with the terrible loss.

“We still lost a lot, and unfortunately I lost my husband in that storm, so it was very devastating that all of this happened … you lose a life, and a lot of lives were lost on the beach,” Knobloch said. . “They’re still looking for bodies and they’ve got a lot of people here helping us, which is good. It was really nice that people came from all over and helped out here.”

“If there’s one thing about the people here, I think they’re very resilient and very welcoming,” Grassmuch said. “You feel welcome when we come here. This is a great community and I know they will bounce back. It’s just going to take a while.”