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Residents in Fort Myers, Fla., are preparing for a hard recovery after Hurricane Ian

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden is expected to travel to Florida on Wednesday to survey the wreckage left by Hurricane Ian. When the storm hit Fort Myers, the most dramatic damage happened along the waterfront - two structures reduced to matchsticks, especially on Fort Myers Beach. A few blocks inland, the scenes are less dramatic, but normal life has still been disrupted. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, residents are preparing for a hard recovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW BUZZING)

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: They're using chainsaws on the riverfront here to cut apart the jumble of yachts, powerboats and chunks of dock. The Caloosahatchee River is the city's northwest border, and if you go a few blocks in, you're in the historically Black neighborhood of Dunbar.

SHEDDRICK JACOBS: This storm, it really hit hard.

KASTE: Sheddrick Jacobs and his wife Sheneka are outside Dunbar High School, where they spent the night in a temporary shelter. Their first-floor apartment was flooded, and they can't go back until they hear from the landlord. They're still processing what's happened.

SHEDDRICK JACOBS: You go outside, and you see, like, what it done to your community. You know, like, power lines is down, trees is everywhere. It looked - a disaster.

KASTE: The shelter here is closing, so they're being pushed to a county-run shelter in a hockey arena 18 miles south of here. The arena has reliable lights and water, unlike Fort Myers. Sheneka says she's seen storms knock out the electricity, but never the water.

SHENEKA JACOBS: It just, like, make me realize how much I need water and power (laughter). More than anything, I'd rather have water than power - for real (laughter).

KASTE: Most people in neighborhood are staying put. The modest, single-story houses are mostly all standing. But the storm left scars. Lexis Cherry lives in her uncle's house. There's no power. And inside, she shows what happens when you open the faucet.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUNNING)

LEXIS CHERRY: Really low pressure, and then it get real low. You see?

KASTE: Water systems experts say low pressure like this may indicate cracks in underground water mains, which could take a while to fix. The water is also a suspicious brown color, and there's a boil water advisory. Back outside, Cherry points out the smell.

CHERRY: We also having problem with the sewage right here where it's running over. That's what we're smelling outside.

KASTE: That stench seems to have multiple sources. About a mile away, another sewage manhole has erupted with a foul-smelling gusher.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEWAGE MANHOLE OVERFLOWING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Right now, I'm just passing out water.

KASTE: All around the neighborhood, people are handing out bottles of water. In this church parking lot, you can get water and a hot meal provided by a private aid group. Inside, the pastor, Dr. William Glover, has just finished a service. If you ask him about the name of his church, Mount Hermon, he says it's a biblical reference to a source of water in ancient Israel.

WILLIAM GLOVER: The dew from the mountain caps flows down into their fresh water supply.

KASTE: Asked the pastor if he thinks this community is getting the help it needs, he says he's going to measure his words.

GLOVER: On the one hand, I can't say that needs aren't being addressed because I've got something set up on my campus addressing those needs.

KASTE: On the other hand, he points out that these are private groups handing out food and water.

GLOVER: And eventually government catches up with that. But communities like this are never really on the first end of feeling the effects of the assistance from the government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE RUNNING)

KASTE: Back at Dunbar High School, the bus has finally arrived to take Sheddrick and Sheneka Jacobs to the shelter in the hockey arena. Despite their situation, Sheddrick is positive.

SHEDDRICK JACOBS: I'm getting what I need, and I think other people are getting what they need too. I think it's been great.

KASTE: Even though, for the foreseeable future, he'll be living in a county shelter 18 miles away. And because his car was flooded, he has to find a way to get back here every day for his job as a helper on a garbage truck. He often puts in 60-hour weeks, but he says given the general state of things around here, he's expecting those weeks will get even longer. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Fort Myers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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