FORT MYERS, FL. – Our coverage of Hurricane Ian’s aftermath continues. Our crew have been traveling around southwest Florida this past week and they’ve noticed a lot of debris, furniture and other items damaged by the hurricane, still sitting outside of homes and businesses. Some people are eager for the cleanup efforts to happen quicker. Some people are concerned the debris could invite looters to their homes.
“Everything was lost, all personal possessions, furniture, six vehicles, all gone,” said Brian McDonald, who lives in the Iona neighborhood of Fort Myers, Florida. It’s about a mile or so away from the beach. Even with this distance, his home was flooded by six feet of water.
He’s getting help from Alex O’Connor to put whatever was damaged from the storm out on the street. It’s a common sight to see in the Fort Myers area. While they aren’t keeping these items, they are sometimes frustrated by the so-called “trash pickers” or people going around town, combing through whatever is left out.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure for some so I guess the less fortunate whatever, but clean up after yourself when you’re done,” said O’Connor. “Put it back where you found it. Take what you want but leave everything else where it’s supposed to be.”
But neighbors are waiting for county and FEMA relief workers to pick this stuff up.
“It might seem like it’s taking forever, but I would say within a month, maybe two, everything’s gone, they do a bang up job cleaning up,” said Ed Foley, who lives in Fort Myers. “I’ve got piles of debris because the storm surge took virtually everything from us and that looks like a war zone.”
Locals said there’s a clear difference between taking what’s on the curb and looting.
“I put it on my refrigerator before it was taken ‘be kind or leave’,” said Foley.
Others told our crew off camera they’re worried businesses that are not operating due to the storm as well as people’s now-vacant homes can be an open invitation for break-ins. We’ve come across signs like this in the area, which read: “no trespassing looters” and “no trespassing looters will get shot”.
According to recent reports, as many as 30 people so far in the Fort Myers area have been arrested and accused of looting. While O’Connor said looting isn’t an issue in their neighborhood, he said to take these warnings seriously.
“Looters will get shot, that’s just the way it is,” said O’Connor. “You gotta be the lowest to the low to take from somebody who’s already lost everything.”
According to Lee County officials, they’ve collected a little more than 500-thousand cubic yards of debris and they still have a long way to go. Officials expect there to be at least four-million cubic yards worth of debris to clean up.