SW Florida assesses damage after Ian: Fort Myers Beach devastated, Matlacha Pass Bridge destroyed

A day after Hurricane Ian made landfall as a category 4 storm, the road to Fort Myers Beach is littered with debris, buildings blown apart, and boats stacked on cars.

In one spot, a rope from the back of a boat was still attached to a piece of the dock. You can still hear alarms going off inside one of them.

Lee County deputies are stationed at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge so no one can pass over to Fort Myers Beach. It's just too dangerous right now.

If you knew Fort Myers Beach then, it's gut-wrenching to see it now. A boat on the tennis court. A golf cart in the palm trees. Homes destroyed. Others drying off from catastrophic storm surges.

TOPSHOT - Residents inspect damage to a marina as boats are partially submerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, on September 29, 2022. (Photo by Giorgio VIERA / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

"It's just heartbreaking and people are so wiped out right now," said Kathy O'Neill as she sorted through her belongings. "We have to make piles. We don't know what to do, where to put things."

People who once lived in paradise are recovering what they can.

"It blew through hurricane doors, hurricane shutters, and it took everything from everyone," O'Neill said. "It's just devastating. You don't know where to begin."

READ: 2 Hurricane Ian-related deaths confirmed in Sarasota County

When Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday, storm surge erupted onto the beach, flooding businesses, and hotels, and sending water levels up to second-story balconies.

"Eleven feet of water took everything out. It took everything," O'Neill said.

A section of the Sanibel Causeway, the only link between Sanibel, Captiva, and the mainland, washed away. The Matlacha Pass Bridge is impassable.

"I've been through category 3, it was never this bad, so I figured, it's not going to be that bad, I'll ride it out," said Joseph Ranlett whose mobile home was destroyed. "Worst mistake of my life. I should've gone to a shelter."

The Caloosahatchee River swelled leaving downtown Fort Myers underwater, stacking boats on one another.

PREVIOUS: Sanibel Causeway will need to be rebuilt, governor says

On the Cape Coral side, countless trees are snapped in half, street signs bent to the ground, and the Cape Coral Yacht Club fishing pier is gone. A boat was grounded in the median of a road.

For those who've lost everything, there are just so many questions.

"What's everybody going to do?" asked Ranlett. "How's everyone going to recover from this? I mean, I don't have the money to go anywhere."

MORE: Historic Venice Theatre gutted from Hurricane Ian's winds

What was once home to many, a home away from home to many more, now feels so unfamiliar.

"You feel like you're in a war zone," O'Neill said. "You don't feel like you're in your little community, your beautiful little beach town. We'll rebuild. We'll make a new life. But it's still hard, it's really hard."

O'Neill got a small glimmer of home while sorting through her things. She recovered a photo of her and her husband on their honeymoon. It's what brought them to the beach.