By Kirsti Scott
As the world watched a pair of hurricanes race through the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic, beachcombers north and south have borne the brunt of the winds and seas and the damage they leave in their wake. Weeks later, many people in storm-ravaged areas are still without power or cleaning up damaged homes and fallen trees. Others are faced with the complete loss of their homes, neighborhoods, and local businesses. Here are some of their stories, plus ways that you can help.
Hurricanes Fiona and Ian
Hurricane Fiona blasted through Puerto Rico almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. On September 18, 2022, Fiona made landfall along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico with winds of 85 mph. The entire island was without power in the immediate aftermath, and power is only slowly returning to the three million residents. On September 24, Fiona made landfall in Nova Scotia, Canada, as the strongest and costliest tropical cyclone in Canada’s history. Winds reached over 100 mph and waves averaged 40-50 feet, with peak waves almost 100 feet in height. Fiona hit New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland before heading out into the North Atlantic towards Greenland. Less than a week later, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida on September 28th, leveling entire neighborhoods, gutting businesses and shops, destroying highways and bridges, and devastating landscapes.
“Oh boy. This is awful here.” – Wednesday, September 28, 2:38 pm
“This is awful. Really bad.” – Wednesday, September 28, 3:00 pm
Megan Mortimer’s sister is a 911 operator/dispatcher for Lee County, Florida. Megan received the two texts above from her sister as the eye wall of Hurricane Ian made landfall over the hardest-hit part of the state at 3:15 pm. “I knew things were extraordinary if she was upset. But we all had to wait anxiously until sunrise on Thursday, September 29, to see how bad it truly was.”
A similar story played out in Puerto Rico as residents waited for Hurricane Fiona to hit. Weeks later, parts of the island are just getting power back today. “I took my second hot shower today since Fiona!” exclaims Carolyn in western Puerto Rico. “Got power back yesterday and I’m hoping it’s for a while! Some areas are still without power and many homes were entirely flooded, but the resiliency of the local communities will see us through.”
Sharon Rivera was born and raised in Puerto Rico is a sea glass collector/jewelry maker/metalsmith using her Instagram page @BikiniJeweler to help the people on the island. She makes memes about jewelers, artists, and has a line of products with an “I Play With Fire” design that she is selling to raise money to purchase groceries and supplies for people in need in the aftermath of hurricane Fiona.
“My page now has almost 13k followers and I wanted to use it to help the people who suffered the most from the hurricane,” Sharon says. “I also want to mention, which I think it's very important, that Puerto Rico has been going through five very difficult years. It's not only about hurricane Fiona, it's about the struggle everyone in the island has been going through ever since hurricane Maria. Our power grid got completely destroyed and it continues to be in a very vulnerable state. After hurricane Maria, which happened in 2017, leaving the complete island without electricity for months, we also suffered from a series of earthquakes in 2019, followed by the Covid pandemic in 2020, and now hurricane Fiona.” She hopes that more people will join those who have started supporting her work, whom she calls “the real helpers."
“With the money from sales and donations I have been able to help approximately 12 families so far,” Sharon explains. “These families live in the towns of Salinas, Santa Isabel, and even San Juan. In the next few days I plan to send donations to Ponce and Mayaguez.”
If you are interested in helping out, you can order a sticker and pay through Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org, order from her website at bikini-jeweler.myshopify.com, or reach out to her on Instagram @BikiniJeweler. “I also invite people to search for other Puerto Rican artists or sea glass collectors and reach out to them,” Sharon says. “A lot of them are small business owners and could use some support.”
Maritza Ruiz has been living in Puerto Rico for 37 years, and is the creator of the Sea-Glass Worldwide Lovers Facebook group, which she began after starting to collect sea glass following her son's death. Maritza and her husband, Luis, feel like they are mostly over the hurdles of the first few weeks after Fiona, when they were without power. “After Fiona, Luis and I lost most of our crops. The winds knocked out the plantains and banana plants, which take a year to grow,” Martiza explains. “We had a few plantains that were almost ready to harvest, so we waited until there was passage down our mountain and began to distribute our crops to the community, wanting to bless those who needed some help. We saw others share their avocados, fruits, and other foods.”
They worked with others to help supply families with food, resources, water, and more. “Luis and I have been cooking and taking food to people who we know need it. Some lost their refrigeration, others are on a fixed income, and others live alone," Maritza says. “I cook and Luis is the muscle to load the car and help me serve.” The military is taking aid to some areas, but others have not been reached yet, so Maritza and Luis try to help where they can. “I love to serve, so this is what we do, as far as we can.”
Though Maritza and Luis didn’t have any running water or power, they had stored drinking water. “It hurts to see so many people hurting and in need. It’s amazing in a country with limited resources how people come together and, no matter what the limitation they confront, they strive to keep alive and overcome adversity. I feel so proud to be a Puertorriqueña.”
Some beachcombers in Canada are also still waiting for power to come back.
“We actually JUST got our power back this morning—tenth day without it!” says Kate in Nova Scotia. “The devastation to my favorite sea glass haunts is unbelievable. There are homes completely washed away, some with roofs torn off, or completely moved off their foundations! The coastal erosion is horrific. The costs of restoration will likely be insurmountable. So many downed trees and power lines. It is quite heartbreaking. We were fortunate being inland, no major damage to the house and only a couple of trees blown down. Our biggest frustration was the loss of power — it was gone for 10 days. When it goes, we also lose water and phone so it has been quite difficult, but thanks to a little creativity with Dollar Store Halloween decorations we had some pretty inventive lighting!”
Shelley Thomas in Nova Scotia considers herself fortunate. “We suffered only minimal damage to our decks. Some branches down, but trees survived. Power and phone service were out for three days,” she say. “Parts of the province were horribly hit, though. Cape Breton, especially. Areas in Newfoundland were wiped out, entirely. Houses were pulled out into the ocean and disappeared under waves. It will be a long recovery. Some regions are still without power or water.”
Anita St. Denis’s family on Prince Edward Island is still cleaning up from the storm. “Finally after a good 10 days, most people have power,” Anita says. “Many had generators that helped get them through the worst. Downed trees was the worst problem. The cleanup has begun in earnest. Neighbors helping neighbors and the military coming in has been a blessing.”
Campobello Island, just across the border from Maine, was spared the worst of the storm. “We were in a lucky spot this time as the storm was mostly offshore of our little island,” says Stephanie. “No power outages, and only one tree down that I am aware of. The beaches took a pounding but no real damage and no one was hurt thankfully.”
Prince Edward Island resident Teri Hall is still cleaning up from Fiona. “It’s been quite the whirlwind ride,” she says. “Our house is fine but we sustained substantial damage to our property. We will be clearing downed trees for months to come. We are still without power, but we have a generator and a wood stove. It’s tiring but find gratitude in the little things every day.”
Megan Mortimer’s family moved to the Cape Coral, Florida, area in 2003 and she’s heading down to help her mother and sister after the storm. “I stayed north, finished college, got married and started a family,” she says. “But needless to say, Cape Coral and the Lee County islands were a second home to me since family friends moved there in the 1990s. Some places we visited every time I came down. Sanibel and Captiva for shelling, and then an evening meetup with all of my friends and family at Plakas on Ft. Myers Beach for sunset and dinner. Hanging out at The Cottage for the drinks and the Original Beach Bread. Pine Island was perfect for fishing and relaxing away from the crowds, and Matlacha gave you that funky, Key West art vibe with Leoma Lovegrove leading the way.
“These places we loved to visit are gone now. What is left is cut off, the roads and bridges washed away.”
Brittanie Pierce is a co-owner of the Shark Frenzy shop in Venice, Florida. “What has happened is an immense, devastating tragedy,” Brittanie says. “Though my shop was spared from Hurricane Ian’s wrath, my home was not. At this time, we are waiting for floodwater to recede around my home so that we can more safely enter it to begin the salvaging and clean up process.” She and her husband had just purchased their first home, remodeled it themselves, and hadn’t even unpacked everything yet. She has received generous donations from friends and family and is hoping to rebuild her home.
Ken Overly runs Treasure Seekers Shell Tours in Marco Island, Florida. He is relieved that he and his team are mostly ok. “Everyone is safe and our boats all appear to be fine,” Ken says. “The marina where we store the boats took heavy damage so we are unable to launch.” A friend is loaning a boat for him to use so he can operate on a limited schedule for folks to go shelling. “We also have relationships with several fishing charter captains that we will begin boat sharing with to get more of our guests to the islands. The damage north of us is heartbreaking so we are challenged with balancing respect for the loss with getting our folks back to work.”
Lisa Foy in Fort Myers is heartbroken by the damage in her community. “So many have lost absolutely everything,” says Lisa. “Southwest Florida will never be the same but people are coming together, which is amazing to see. The damage is everywhere, not just along our beaches. I know the news outlets don’t always show those areas.” Lisa has been posting links to various charities that are aiding in the recovery at Gulf Coast Sea Breeze.
Sanibel residents are living in limbo now, unable to return to assess the damage to their homes as the only bridge to the island was damaged.
Linda hasn’t been able to get back onto Sanibel Island and has to try to assess the damage to her Sanibel home using photos posted online. “The house does seem OK in NOAA pictures,” says Linda. “No debris around house, so hopefully the shutters are all still on. No clue if surge inside was one foot or seven feet. Supposedly the city council will allow owners back on by ferry and island shuttle to visit their homes for a day and remove medicines, clothes, whatever. I have resigned myself that entire inside contents are toast. That way, maybe there’s a little space for a happier discovery!”
Many visitors are also heartbroken. “That was our ‘happy place’ and we’d go two to three times a year then would go shelling to Marco Island,” says Bernadette Skipper, who lives on Florida’s Atlantic coast. “People would go for family vacations or when they had a broken heart, as that place would help fix it.”
Mary Hopkins Bailey just returned from Amelia Island, on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, where she waited out the storm with her mother. “There were voluntary evacuations but the primary risk for us was storm surge, so we felt it safe to stay,” she explains. “We got a lot of rain... some of the highest tides I've ever seen, but fortunately, we avoided flooding!! Winds were in the tropical storm category by the time the storm reached us, so we suffered no damage, thankfully. I went out on the beach early, early the morning after the storm, but the beach was full of shells as you might expect after a storm of this magnitude. I found some beautiful lightning whelks, and a fossilized dolphin vertebrae, and smack in the middle of the beach was a huge tractor tire.”
“Like the Sanibel Lighthouse, stripped bare and missing a leg, the community stands in midst of an unknown future,” says Megan Mortimer.
How to help
- Volunteer to help. A list of those who can connect volunteers with needs is below. Please add yours in the comments.
- Donate cash. It’s the best way to ensure services to people after a disaster. Physical donations can overwhelm charities.
- Donate directly through GoFundMe. Many individuals and businesses have set up ways to donate at GoFundMe, hoping to raise money for everything from housing to food to rebuilding for themselves and their employees. You can find links on the social media pages of businesses and individuals.
- To directly support a business, consider buying a gift card or making a purchase with the understanding that it may be a while before your shipment occurs.
- There is no mail service in many affected areas so be sure to check if your recipient can even receive your mail or packages before sending.
“More than anything, I would appreciate words of support. I want to hear encouragement and love,” says Brittanie in Venice. “That’s what I need most right now. I feel like my spirit is broken. My heart aches for my community and for people all over Florida and Cuba that are experiencing loss right now.”
Organizations helping those affected by the storms
Please post links to other organizations that are helping in the comments.
When donating after a natural disaster, be sure to double check that the people or organizations are who they say they are — and are in need. Unfortunately, often scam organizations pop up asking for donations. Below is a list of vetted, verified organizations.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross is accepting donations to help hurricane victims. The national organization is providing supplies, shelter and other relief. www.redcross.org
American Red Cross Blood Services
The Red Cross has an urgent need for blood donations. You can find a blood drive in your area by searching your ZIP code or by calling 1-800-733-2767. www.redcrossblood.org
Canadian Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross is offering services and assistance during this time of need. www.redcross.ca
Charlottetown Mutual Aid
Charlottetown Mutual Aid fund gives out food and water, personal hygiene products, blankets, and more. facebook.com/profile.php?id=100084686372902
Collaboratory and United Way of Lee County are running this. 100% of the money goes to non-profits in SWFL who are helping people affected by Ian. collaboratory.org
Feeding Florida is a network of the national food bank nonprofit Feeding America. The organization is coordinating with food banks across the state to provide food to victims of the hurricane. www.feedingflorida.org
F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva Inc.
F.I.S.H. is a human service organization focused on “neighbors helping neighbors” with a vision to create communities where all people have the support they need to thrive. Their mission is to enrich the lives of all people in Sanibel & Captiva Island. fishofsancap.org
You can purchase a “We Stand with Sanibel & Captiva” sticker with 100% of the profits going to F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva Inc. by messaging @shellebrate_life on Instagram.
Florida Disaster Fund
Florida’s official disaster relief fund coordinates aid across governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the state. volunteerflorida.org/donatefdf/
Volunteer Florida has a list of volunteer opportunities, both in-person and virtual. Its opportunities include joining a Red Cross Disaster Action Team that provides 24-hour support and a Disaster Mental Health team to help Floridians with long-term recovery from trauma. volunteerflorida.org
World Central Kitchen
Chef José Andrés founded this organization in 2010 after a huge earthquake devastated Haiti. Today they are preparing thousands of pasta and salad meals for people impacted by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. World Central Kitchen had just opened a field test kitchen there and is now sending out their food trucks to affected communities. WCK.org
Top: Florida coastline pounded by Hurricane #9 of the 1945 hurricane season, the second category four storm of the season. From September 12–18 it traveled from the Bahamas into Florida and the East Coast. From the Everett Collection, Shutterstock.
Thank you for sharing all the ways one can support and help rebuild the hundred of communities affected by Hurricane Ian.
I’d like to highlight @shellebrate_life on IG for making Sanibel Lighthouse stickers in exchange for ones donation.. 100% proceeds will go to the F.I.S.H. charity organization in SWFL.
I am looking forward to continuing to support these amazing charities that are dedicated in rebuilding a stronger and more vibrant community!
As a hurricane survivor my self, I know how they feel. I’ve survived many on the island of Bermuda, the Florida Keys, Virginia Beach and in Maryland. Irma was horrific five years ago !! My best advice is when they say evacuate, you must evacuate. There is no excuse!!!