JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
The death toll from Hurricane Ian in Florida is now at least 100, and it continues to rise in the hardest-hit counties still in search and recovery mode. On Pine Island, Florida's largest Gulf Coast island, the only road to the mainland is impassable for people trying to get off the island. The Coast Guard sheriff and fire department are standing by with boats and helicopters, but that is just a one-way trip. For those trying to get back on the island to check on homes or neighbors or to salvage their belongings, well, there's only one option, as NPR's Liz Baker found out.
LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: This pontoon boat is usually a party barge with beers and bros, but today it's a ferry.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We've got that huge pontoon that just pulled through if you guys want to take a ride with us.
BAKER: Rosie Perez is on board. She evacuated before the storm and wants to get home to pick up the pieces - if any pieces are left.
ROSIE PEREZ: I'm nervous. It's my first time going over there, so I don't know what to expect, really. You see the pictures and you hear about it, but it's nothing like about actually experiencing it, so...
SUMMERS: Passengers start sharing their hurricane stories. One guy says he pulled a dead woman out of the water, another asks about looters. Everyone has heard unsubstantiated rumors. And many of the passengers have guns. Others think about the items they hope to recover.
LENNY SATTANI: All my credit cards were in a little stack in a drawer. If I could find that dresser, I could get my credit cards. My medical records are there. I'm hoping to find something, something I could hold on to.
SUMMERS: The last time Lenny Sattani saw his home in Matlacha, it was flooded with 5 feet of storm surge. The fire department had to rescue Sattani, his daughter and his grandkids after the storm passed. As the barge fights a strong current and weaves around floating porta potties, sunken sailboats and twisted metal roofs, Sattani gets his first look at the destruction on shore.
SATTANI: Oh, my God. That whole bridge is gone.
BAKER: In some spots, you would never know homes and a road used to exist where now there's only a hole filled with black, brackish water. Rosie Perez starts to worry about her neighbors who stayed behind.
PEREZ: You know, I don't even know if any of the people that maybe didn't survive. They haven't really announced anything. So the waiting game of knowing how people are is hard.
BAKER: The boat drops people off at a waterfront park caked with foul-smelling mud. Utility poles, pieces of houses, and a huge walk-in freezer from a restaurant block the road to Lenny Sattani's roofless yellow fishing bungalow.
SATTANI: That whole house was there since 1949.
BAKER: Inside is a mess of mud, with furniture and belongings flung everywhere by the storm surge. Sattani's son-in-law forces the door open and starts to dig around.
SATTANI: Five-hundred-dollar watch my dad gave me before he passed away.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Anything in your closet?
SATTANI: I don't think so.
BAKER: Sattani piles some photos, his old Army uniform and those credit cards he had been hoping to find into a container and wheels it away down the street, off to flag a boat to the mainland. He's not coming back.
SATTANI: No, I can't do it.
BAKER: John Orbanus is on the fence about leaving.
JOHN ORBANUS: I'm 65 years old. I don't think I could do all this work that's got to be done. So what do I do? I put a FEMA claim in and I walk away. Whatever FEMA gives me, I live on that, Social Security and my retirement. Or do I come back here and try to rebuild?
BAKER: Orbanus' home in the Flamingo Bay trailer park has no roof, but it's still standing. So he's hosting three newly homeless neighbors. One of them is 75-year-old Diana Bisson. At night, she sleeps on Orbanus' kitchen floor. During the day, she and her partner sort through what's left of the home they've shared for 28 years.
DIANA BISSON: That's all my clothing out of my drawers. I'm just throwing it away. My partner has cancer of the lungs, and she was supposed to have her last chemo Friday. Both our cars are completely cooked.
BAKER: But she hasn't yet found her most meaningful possessions.
BISSON: I lost both my son's ashes. They were in my room. They're gone. I have been all through that whole thing. I found this. That was my oldest boy Leo's.
BAKER: A short gold chain, now around her neck.
BISSON: Yep. I found it, and I'll never take it off.
BAKER: Bisson and her partner are planning to leave as soon as the road is passable. They've heard maybe Saturday. She doesn't know if they'll be back. But this will always be home, even though it'll never be the same, she says. Liz Baker, NPR News, Pine Island, Fla.
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