Hurricane Ian destroys Sanibel Island

Lily Taylor

A picture taken from Merrill Taylor’s house in Sanibel.


  Holland resident Merrill Taylor is preparing her things to get on a flight to return to her home on Sanibel Island, but before she can go anywhere, she learns that Hurricane Ian is going towards Florida, and headed straight for her house.

On Friday, September 23. Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency to prepare for Hurricane Ian. Families across the state evacuated and tried their best to prepare their homes and themselves for what catastrophe lies ahead.

Taylor built her house on Sanibel Island in 1994. She lives here from October through May, when she is not living in her house on Lake Macatawa in Michigan. She cancels her flight, feeling helpless, as she can do nothing to stop the storm or protect her house. 

The storm hit Florida on September 28. It landed in southwest Florida as a category four storm and weakened as it moved inland, but the amount of damage it left was astonishing. Hurricane Ian killed 146 people in Florida alone. Millions were left without power. It is the second deadliest storm to strike the United States this century since Hurricane Katrina. 

 After the storm hit Sanibel Island, Merrill Taylor had no way to determine how much damage her house suffered. Sanibel Causeway, the bridge that cars use to get to the island, was completely destroyed and the only way to get to the island was by boat. Her neighbors had evacuated and the only footage from the island was satellite images from NOA showing a view of the roads and landscaping. So, Merrill Taylor still did not know how much her house was damaged, or if there was a house remaining.

A few days later, Merrill Taylor received pictures of her house from a contractor. After looking at the pictures, her two adult children, Mike Taylor and Marnie Pierce, decided to take a trip down to Sanibel to check out the house and try and grab any valuables that were left. But seeing the island was not easy. “The island was indescribable. My first thought driving upon arrival was shock… told Marnie it looked like “Garbage Island”. Piles upon piles of trash lining every road. Refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, mattresses everywhere,” Mike Taylor said. “I think at first glance things were overwhelming and then it started to sink in just how bad it was. Literally every building was damaged. The amount of people who lost their homes and businesses is hard to comprehend. When you consider just how many people need help. So many businesses will take major construction to open back up,” Pierce said. 

Although most of the island was completely destroyed, Merrill Taylor’s house was in better shape than expected. “The house was actually in good shape compared to most homes on the island… roof, porch, a slider and two garage doors need to be replaced.  Neighborhood looks completely different. It was hard to see so much destruction and it made me wonder how long all the beautiful landscape would take to regrow,” Mike Taylor said. The house had also already been cleaned up a little before Mike Taylor and Pierce’s arrival. “When we arrived, we were so happy to learn that water had been turned on and the contractor had cleaned out the entire lower level. I think if we had seen it with all the debris everywhere in her lower level and the muck and sludge – that would have been harder to see,” Pierce said.  

Although the house was in better condition than initially predicted it still felt the effects of the hurricane. “The surge destroyed my car, golf cart and many things stored down there….. all the doors and garage doors on the lower level were destroyed,” Merrill Taylor said. “The first floor doors were so swollen they had to be rammed open. Then once open we couldn’t close them. So any lizard, snake, palm rat – etc could move in.  We tried to keep the doors as closed as possible,” Pierce said. 

The road to recovery will be long and tough for Sanibel Island. There is thousands and thousands of dollars in damage. Businesses and homes across the Island will take years to rebuild. “..not much of the island remains… restaurants, grocery, resorts, need complete rebuilds,” Mike Taylor said. Not only are buildings gone, trees, bushes, and habitats were also destroyed. “The vegetation is already coming back some, but will be years for it to be close to what it was. Some resorts and homes are just gone,” Pierce said. As for Taylor, she does not plan on returning to Sanibel anytime soon and will be selling her home there. “The hardest part was realizing that it will take years for the island to come back and that I will probably never live there again,” Merrill Taylor said.