Fort Myers Property Management Blog

Nearly One Year After Hurricane Ian: Resilience, Lessons, and The Unbreakable Bonds of Community

Royal Palm Property Management - Monday, September 18, 2023

As the owner of Royal Palm Property Management, overseeing close to 350 properties at the time, Hurricane Ian was a life-altering event both personally and professionally. Even as a Florida native, accustomed to weathering storms, Ian was unparalleled in its fury and devastation.

Personal Worries Amidst Professional Responsibilities

When you hear the same sentiment—"I was really worried about you"—from multiple friends months after the storm, the weight of the experience truly begins to sink in. The concern for myself was there, of course, but it was compounded by an intricate web of responsibilities. 

My worries weren't just personal; they extended to the 350 properties under our management. These weren't just doors and walls; each represented a unique situation and set of challenges. Some were investment flips in the midst of, or just completing, renovations—projects thrown into disarray by the hurricane's devastation. Then there were the homes filled with family memories and cherished possessions, each holding an emotional significance that went far beyond their monetary worth.

The collective concern of my friends and family served as a reminder of the magnitude of the situation. This was not just a business operation disrupted; it was a community in distress. And within that community, every single door mattered—not just to us, but to the families and investors who relied on them. The concern of those around me mirrored my own multi-layered apprehensions and emphasized the gravity of what we had endured and what still lay ahead.

The Shocking Extent of the Damage

Of these properties, almost 40 units were nearly destroyed, most due to the unforgiving flooding. The water's merciless rise left these homes in a state of ruin, rendering them uninhabitable and requiring extensive rehabilitation before they could ever be occupied again. 

The other 310 units experienced a broad spectrum of damage—from torn screens that were the least of our worries, to roofs that were peeled back as if they were mere wrappers, exposing the vulnerable interiors to the elements. Some properties had shattered windows, others had fences knocked down, and still, others faced structural compromises that would require careful assessment and intervention.

To say Ian was relentless would be an understatement. The hurricane tore through our community with a ferocity that defied description, leaving no one untouched and making it abundantly clear that recovery would be a long, hard journey. Yet, even in the face of such widespread destruction, we were energized by a collective sense of purpose to rebuild and recover, not just for the sake of property but more importantly for the people whose lives were tied to them.

The Surreal Journey to My Office

The water was so high I couldn’t drive my large SUV down McGregor. There were vans and trucks stalled out and flooded everywhere. Wading through thigh-high waters, sometimes almost waist-deep, to reach my office was an experience I’ll never forget. I just knew it was going to be severely flooded. Flooded it was but not nearly as bad as it would have been had my husband not spent time the night before “just in case” to clear out the inlet leading to the storm drain.   I can't express enough gratitude for the gentleman, Josh and his family, who let me hop into the back of their big truck filled with others who had lost everything.  Even amidst the chaos, their act of kindness was a beacon.

The Emotional Toll

It was overwhelming. The weight of the situation didn't fully hit me until I walked a quadplex in Fort Myers Shores—a property situated directly on the riverbank and almost entirely submerged up to the second floor. Confronted by the viscous mud, destroyed childhood keepsakes, and spoiled household items, my heart sank. One tenant, justifiably irate, raised their voice, questioning how I planned to rectify this devastating situation. Their despair was unmistakable; having lost all they owned, they faced the bleak reality of having no place to turn.

In that moment, my professional facade crumbled. Mustering a barely audible "I am sorry," I retreated to my truck. Then, the floodgates opened. It was a level of emotional vulnerability I had never exposed before, not even to my husband. When I dialed his number, my voice broke, stammering through tears and barely able to articulate a single sentence. That moment served as a piercing, agonizing realization that the challenges we faced extended far beyond the realm of finance and logistics; they touched the very core of our humanity.

The Role of Teamwork and Support Systems

I'm eternally grateful for my remote team, who seamlessly took over the handling of disaster reports when local communication systems broke down. They worked tirelessly around the clock, fulfilling and exceeding their duties without hesitation, making sure that every tenant and property received the attention they needed during this critical time. Their commitment to excellence enabled us to continue operating smoothly even under such adverse conditions.

I extend my deepest thanks to my vendors as well. The logistical challenges we faced (and continue to face) in the aftermath of the hurricane were complex and daunting, yet they stood beside us every step of the way. From sourcing scarce materials to prioritizing and arranging essential services, their expertise and adaptability made all the difference in our recovery efforts.

Equally deserving of praise is my husband, who never once questioned the long hours and exhaustive work I committed to in the weeks and months that followed the disaster. When faced with the magnitude of what lay ahead, his only question was, "How can I help?"—a question he may have immediately regretted as I handed him a list of 20 properties that needed to be assessed immediately. His unwavering support and hands-on involvement were invaluable, providing not just practical assistance but emotional strength as well.

The Resilient Community

Community groups like Better Together were essential. Volunteers, some of whom had also lost everything, stepped up to help distribute food and supplies. Whenever I felt self-pity creeping in, it was quickly put into perspective by witnessing the suffering of others, often with smiles on their faces.

Final Gratitude and Acknowledgments

While no disaster preparedness plan could have perfectly shielded us from Hurricane Ian’s wrath, our strategy was strong. My deepest gratitude goes to the relationships that literally saved my business and, in many ways, my sanity. 

We'd like to express our deepest gratitude to our clients for their remarkable patience and understanding during this challenging time. Your kindness has not only been noticed but also greatly appreciated.

We're especially moved by the extraordinary efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Khan. Their commitment transcended the ordinary, driving for hours to provide us with an abundance of donated supplies. This generosity enabled us to convert our office into a complimentary supply hub, where impacted tenants could find essentials like air mattresses, food, water, diapers, and formula. Their acts of kindness were instrumental in providing immediate relief and have left an indelible mark on us.

Thank you all for your unparalleled support and compassion. We are truly fortunate to serve such an outstanding group of people. 

Leslie, one of our dedicated agents, who went above and beyond in a time of need. Demonstrating remarkable initiative and commitment, Leslie sourced crucial roofing tarps and personally drove hours to get them to us when there were none to be found locally.  Her swift and proactive actions were invaluable, and we're proud to have her as part of our team.

We are profoundly grateful for the ongoing dedication and commitment shown by Mike, our Maintenance Director. Not only has Mike been pivotal in the restoration and upkeep of our properties, but his service to our community extends far beyond any single event and continues to this day.

Following the storm, Mike selflessly donated both his time and cooking skills, setting up his grill to provide burgers and hotdogs for our residents. As they selected the essential items they needed, many were able to enjoy their first warm meal since the onset of the storm. His actions not only filled bellies but also lifted spirits, reinforcing the sense of community that makes us all proud to be part of Royal Palm Property Management.

We are immensely thankful for the enduring support from our team, clients, vendors, residents, colleagues, and friends. Your various contributions—be it offering specialized services, delivering emergency supplies, or the simple yet impactful act of checking in—have been the pillars upon which we've rebuilt. Even in moments when the way forward was unclear and the tasks overwhelming, your unwavering support provided us with the courage to keep moving forward.

Concluding Thoughts

As we near the one-year mark since Hurricane Ian devastated our community, this milestone offers us an invaluable opportunity to pause and reflect. We've faced unparalleled challenges, learned invaluable lessons, and most importantly, strengthened our communal bonds in ways only adversity can forge. 

Over the course of the last year, we've been reminded that our community is built on a strong foundation of resilience, acts of kindness, and a spirit of collective effort. It has shown us that our most robust asset is our unity. When faced with adversity, we didn't falter; instead, we rise-up, together.

To each and every one of you who has stood with us this past year, we extend our deepest gratitude. Your collective efforts have not just rebuilt structures, but have also fortified the spirit of Royal Palm Property Management and our community.