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The Gulf Coast of Florida is still cleaning up from Hurricane Ian and floodwaters that are just now receding. Dozens have died in the state, and some 900,000 people still didn't have power as of this morning. NPR's Quil Lawrence is in a disaster zone in the state, and he sent us this report.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Francie Pucin moved to Florida a year ago from Illinois after she retired. She bought a place in Palmetto Palms, a tight-packed neighborhood of mobile homes. This area has made it through storms in the past.
FRANCIE PUCIN: They said the last storm they had - Charley - only two of the homes were damaged.
LAWRENCE: This time, she says, the storm surge wrecked every home in the park.
PUCIN: My coffee table's on top of my kitchen counter. So the whole place is - it looks like a bomb went off.
(SOUNDBITE OF WALKING THROUGH WATER)
LAWRENCE: The water is still ankle deep in the road. She and her neighbors are wading through it to salvage things like clothes. But they're mostly hoping for federal help.
PUCIN: It's hard to get insurance for single-wides, so most of us are uninsured.
LAWRENCE: Just up the road, the only bridge to Sanibel Island collapsed, and it took until Friday for rescue crews to begin ferrying survivors back to the mainland. Chelle Walton and her husband, Rob, have lived on Sanibel since 1981. So they've seen storms. But this time they waited too long.
CHELLE WALTON: My son was - he lives on the mainland and works for the chamber, and was like, you've got to go now. But that's when they were telling us, no. Stay. In place, hunker down.
LAWRENCE: Lee County officials are facing criticism for not ordering an evacuation earlier. As the water was rising, the Waltons went up to their attic.
C WALTON: And then we're like, OK, we don't want to be trapped up here. So we went back downstairs and swam through our house and tried to figure out what to do and shivered a lot. It's amazing how cold that water was.
LAWRENCE: They made a last phone call to their son, Aaron, with the water rising.
AARON WALTON: Last I had heard, like I said, was water is up to their chest. And didn't want to assume the worst, but I was trying to stay positive. And it was rough.
LAWRENCE: The water crested just in time for the Waltons to not drown in their kitchen. There was no power or cell service, though, so they couldn't call Aaron for three days.
A WALTON: Wednesday, 3:30 is the last time I've heard from him until - like I said, little glimpse of hopes there. I mean, the first time I spoke to her on the phone was about an hour ago.
LAWRENCE: The Waltons are heading home with their son. But many of the Sanibel residents here went to a shelter nearby. Sitting outside the shelter was Rafael Rausao from Venezuela, who's only been in Florida for a month. Just one inch of water reached his house. But he came to the shelter for the electricity and food and because he was scared.
RAFAEL RAUSAO: (Speaking Spanish).
LAWRENCE: They don't have hurricanes like this in central Venezuela, where he's from. He wasn't sure what welcome to expect as a foreigner at the shelter.
RAUSAO: (Speaking Spanish).
LAWRENCE: But no one even asked if he was from the U.S. And he says he's grateful to all the people dropping off donated food and clothes. Sitting next to him smoking a cigarette is Mark Sturgeon, 61. He lost his mobile home in south Fort Myers.
MARK STURGEON: It's done. It's - water was about a foot below my roof.
LAWRENCE: He works maintenance for a building on Sanibel Island. He planned to ride out the storm there on the third floor until...
STURGEON: Something just told me, Mark, you need to get off the island. I left at the last minute because of my car.
LAWRENCE: He was afraid insurance wouldn't pay for his car, so he started driving. He'd just had new wipers put on.
STURGEON: They went flying off. Some young kid put them on - didn't put them on there right. So now I'm coming across the bridge. I can't see two feet in front of me. I'm praying, and I'm shaking like a leaf. I'm scared.
LAWRENCE: The bridge collapsed not long after he crossed. He's still shaking as he tells the story. Sturgeon says he had quit smoking, but, this week, he picked it back up again.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News.
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