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Sundial Now: A journalist on the frontline of Hurricane Ian tells of 'complete devastation'

Courtesy of Maria Alejandra Cardona
Reuters video journalist, Maria Alejandra Cardona, at Homewood Suites in Fort Myers on Wednesday, September 28, 2022.

Over the last week, images coming out of Southwest Florida have shown unimaginable devastation, shocking even hurricane veterans in our state.

As millions were told to evacuate the area, Reuters video journalist Maria Alejandra Cardona was going in the opposite direction. She is one of the people responsible for capturing those scenes and telling the world this story.

She told Sundial Now that what she saw reminded her of other tragedies she had reported on — but on a completely different scale.

“When I see certain buildings in debris or certain buildings abandoned, it reminds me of Surfside. But Surfside was one building,” she said.

It also reminds her of Hurricane Dorian, which made landfall in Elbow Cay, Bahamas, in 2019 as a Category 5.

“But this is such a wide amount of land and so much more people than the Bahamas. So I think that's where it's shocking, that even inland is completely, completely flooded... [it's] complete devastation inland,” she said.

Cardona was in place to cover the incoming storm days before it made landfall last Wednesday. She is currently in Fort Myers reporting on the aftermath in the area, which includes Matlacha Island.

“It's a really small beach community. There, their main road is completely down, just like Sanibel [Island]. And so the roads are completely crumbled up,” she said.

“The only way in and out of Matlacha is gone. So you would have to take a boat. You would have to kayak maybe, or paddleboard. And it's just really a sight, because where there once was a road is now filled with water.”

She has encountered many residents left isolated by the power of the storm. Others are choosing to stay even if their homes are uninhabitable, fearing the loss of more of their belongings to looting.

While in Fort Myers, she reported on David Adams. He and his wife had to swim out of their home into their boat, taking their four cats and turtle with them in order to survive the severe flooding.

“To swim out, with your cats and turtle as well, to a pontoon boat and stick it out on a pontoon boat was pretty incredible. They were in complete shock, but they survived and they were trying to move forward and try to be grateful that they were still here,” said Cardona.

A common sentiment among locals is “this was not fun,” according to Cardona. It’s somewhat strange to hear — when would a hurricane be fun? But with the context of many Floridian's attitudes in regard to these storms, it checks out.

Maria Alejandra Cardon
Reuters video journalist, Maria Alejandra Cardona, in Fort Myers on Wednesday, September 28, 2022.

“Coming from Miami, we used to joke around about having hurricane parties when the hurricane came,” she said. “When a hurricane comes, it's usually a time to relax. People don't go to work. Yeah, you get some flooding, but nothing major.

"[But] this was a major storm. And when people say it's not fun, I'm guessing it's because they used to have a relaxed time when minor hurricanes would come in and not cause that much damage.”

Another popular sentiment from locals is “never again", she said. Hurricane Ian has made some question their lives in Florida and whether rebuilding is an option. Cardona wonders what effects this might have on development in the state.

“That does seem to ring a bell," she said of the issue. "And to a lot of people, especially a lot of the New Yorkers and people from New Jersey that just moved here — some people say this is what you get for living in paradise.”

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Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.