Hurricane Ian Leaves Behind a Staggering Scale of Damage in Florida

Elsewhere in the complex, Sarah Walters, 41, arrived in flip-flops and cutoff shorts to assess the damage to her mother’s house. It could have been worse, she said. But she still could not reach her mother, who had evacuated to her nurse’s house. Ms. Walters spent the storm at her own home about a mile away, with her husband and stepdaughter bracing against their front door for three hours to keep it from blowing in.

“We just have to figure out a way to fix things,” she said.

People who decided not to evacuate described harrowing escapes through chest-high floodwaters. Some made it out on a kayak or jet skied down a four-lane road. Some huddled on top of cars. Some had to flee to their second floors and watched couches and furniture float through their living rooms.

In Naples Park, Joe Lema, 76, and his wife, Joyce, 70, spent four hours trapped inside their house by the force and weight of the rising water outside. Unable to open the doors, they tried to break their expensive hurricane impact windows, to no avail. They called 911, but they were told it was too late.

“I said a lot of prayers,” Mrs. Lema said on Thursday. They had been in the evacuation zone but said nothing like this had ever happened since buying the home in 1986.

Chad Sulkes thought he had been prepared for the worst, having bought a generator, gas, food and a portable air-conditioner until Ian’s storm surge began to invade his home in Naples Park, forcing him to flee into the storm.

“There’s no items you can buy to prepare for that,” he said. “The only preparation is to leave.”

On Thursday, he returned to the house he rents on Seagull Drive to find it in complete disarray. His boat in the canal out back was sinking. All his furniture and belongings were strewn about, covered in mud. The floor was slick with mud tainted with gasoline.