Rep. Spencer Roach said Hurricane Ian has left countless residents in his Lee County district homeless — and he may be one of them.
The North Fort Myers Republican evacuated the district before the Category 4 hurricane made landfall in Cayo Costa. He rode out the storm in Stuart at his brother’s home. While there, he learned flooding filled his neighborhood for the first time in 100 years. Based on reports from constituents, the property damage will be massive throughout Southwest Florida.
“It’s going to take over a decade to rebuild Lee County,” he said. “This is something we have not suffered in many years.”
Roach, a 20-year veteran of the Coast Guard, has participated in rescue and response to massive hurricanes in the past. That includes being deployed to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Based on early reports, he fears the storm was the most like the one that just struck his home.
“People have made a lot of comparisons to Irma and Charley,” he said. “This is more similar to Katrina than the Florida storms we are familiar with. There is a different level of devastation and recovery, and it is going to impact a lot of folks.”
Lee County remains under curfew, partly because of concerns about looting. Roach has heard reports of boaters looting the wealthy coastal neighborhoods on Sanibel and Captiva. He has spoken to Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who voiced fears that fatalities from the storm could number in the hundreds.
Roach feels grateful he wasn’t in his home when the storm surge flooded it. He purchased the home in 2018, the same year he won election to the House, and has since invested $100,000 in renovations to the 1974 structure.
All of his possessions inside the home were destroyed by the flood, he said. But when he returned home late Thursday, he found some reason for hope.
“I was able to access the house. Exterior structure is in good shape but inside is trashed from the water,” Roach tweeted. “Thank you all for the unbelievable outpouring of well wishes and prayers of support. I am truly humbled by the calls and messages I received. Tomorrow will be a better day.”
This all leaves Roach acutely concerned with the property insurance crisis facing the state. He was among those who just last month learned his insurance company was pulling out of the state. And while he is still insured, he predicted the devastation from the storm will put more providers out of business in Florida and make matters worse for consumers.
“The remaining carriers will face catastrophic losses, and many more will go bankrupt or end up pulling out of Florida,” he said.
Roach said he has received calls from political leaders across the state including House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Speaker-designate Paul Renner. He also received a personal call from First Lady Casey DeSantis.
Roach will move into his district office at Marina Village until permanent living arrangements can be worked out, with all his possessions already in his car including two sets of jeans, a couple T-shirts and a change of shoes. “That’s all I have that is not underwater,” he said.
But at the moment, his vehicle is primarily filled with supplies he’s delivering back to his district from Stuart. Based on calls from constituents, he said there’s a need for soaps, charcoal, propane and canned food, anything that will let people survive without power to their homes.
His first priority when he returns to the region, though, will be checking out his parents’ home. They live in Southwest Cape Coral and chose to wait out the storm, but with cell service spotty, he hasn’t been able to speak to them since the hurricane made landfall.
He said before the region can consider how to rebuild, the focus must first be on survival. He has heard many reports of constituents still stuck in attics where they fled floods.
He trusts the federal government will deliver robust support to the region, likely including Federal Emergency Management Agency camps to provide a place for people to stay. Many need solar showers where they can bathe. “So many, like me, are left without toiletry products and a way to shower,” he said. “Those are what we need right now.”