PINE ISLAND, Floa. – Cigarette dangling from her fingers, Christine Wright slowed her battered Oldsmobile minivan to a crawl, inching over a power line lying across the road.

A few minutes earlier, she zipped past in the other direction, nearly entangling the van’s rear wheels and ripping off the rear axle. She didn’t want to make the same mistake twice: Hurricane Ian’s destruction is inescapable here, and getting the van fixed would be impossible because the mainland bridge was washed out.

“You can’t help an act of God,” said Wright, 57.

Wright rode out Ian in her townhome in Bokeelia on the narrow island’s north end. Her home suffered very little damage, in part thanks to a neighbor’s tree that fell early and protected her windows from flying debris.

Now, five days after the storm, Wright is helping those who need it, delivering water and supplies to friends, checking on damaged houses and stopping to talk to a stranger who needs to report a water leak. She indulged a USA TODAY journalist with a tour. After all, she said, it’s not as if she has to get to work.

She pointed out where a man with a tractor cleared neighbors’ yards and moved a damaged Jeep to safety. Where World Central Kitchen is distributing free hot meals. Where volunteers are providing internet service powered by a rumbling semitruck and Elon Musk’s Starlink.

“It’s all about the positivity. Once you lose that, you lose your confidence,” she said. “And then you’re useless.”

Ian slammed into Pine Island with 150 mph winds, snapping telephone poles and trees, ripping roofs from homes, and tumbling mobile homes and RVs. About 9,000 people live on Pine Island and the surrounding areas year-round, but it swells dramatically as snowbirds from the North soak up the sun from the waterside bars and restaurants.


St. James City on the southern tip appears to have been hit the hardest, while Bokeelia on the north end suffered less. But the destruction is everywhere, and it breaks Wright’s heart to see it.

She said this as she drove from one end of the island to the other Monday, through the four-way intersection where the road normally runs east back over a bridge to tiny Matlacha Island and then to the mainland. Both bridges are out, and authorities say it will take at least a week to get them fixed well enough for traffic to resume.

A section of Pine Island Road along Matlacha was gone after Hurricane Ian on Sunday.

Under normal circumstances, leaving Pine Island for the mainland is not much more than a quick drive over bridges and then you’re in Cape Coral, with Fort Myers a little farther down the road.

But now, the only access is by boat. Dozens of volunteers are ferrying donated supplies to the islands in private boats, working alongside the U.S. Coast Guard, which is managing the water-based evacuation of the island.

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