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Hurricane Ian made away with my life and heart

Finding a silver lining in the darkest storm

Dustin Sanchez worked as a bartender at one of the hottest beach resorts in Fort Myers beach, Florida (one of the hardest hit areas), and was planning his wedding in November.
His future was as beautiful as his wife, and life was just about to begin when Hurricane Ian visited. The community has been battered by hurricanes and survived, and this was just another one, or so they thought.
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Natural disasters are the norm in the United States coastal regions; but survivor stories and their HOPE are human characteristics we will never fully comprehend even amid 155-mile-per-hour catastrophic winds, heavy rains, and storms.
My perfect life was ruined, and everything I thought I had and needed in life was taken away by Hurricane Ian. I had the ideal job as a bartender at the Lani Kai hotel and beach resort for the past six years. I also lived there and awoke to the serene sound of the ocean and its atmosphere.
So when Hurricane Ian was announced, I did not think it was anything beyond the ordinary, having survived Hurricane Irma. I thought, “This is just another one, and we will all get through it.”
Was I ever so wrong as the storm arrived with a soul-wrenching stare that shook our reality? In a matter of minutes, the water rose from one foot, then two, then all the cars in the neighborhood were underwater, and the fears of families were louder than the storm, wind, and rain surging through the streets. While I pondered the extent of the damage, a palm tree fell and destroyed my new Chevy equinox, while I stood flabbergasted, my mom’s house and proposed wedding gift, crumbled like a pack of cards and was swept away by Ian. It began like every other day.
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Life on the Florida beach is incredible: the warm sun, white beaches, turquoise water gently hitting the beach, and lively people drinking, laughing, and sharing a joke. It seemed like just another day until it wasn’t. We hear the usual hurricane stories: a palm tree has fallen, a power line is down, and cars are swimming in the water, but life goes on. This was different. The emergency team advised beach residents to evacuate immediately, and that meant us (my fiancé and I). Even though it was not our first storm, we moved against our wishes. We had a huge family that included nine pets—a snake, three mice, three dogs, and two cats—and we could not just leave without thinking about them. We had to find floaters, in case we had to swim. The thought of losing any of them was devastating.
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And it was over. Ian took away my home, my car, and my life. My girlfriend stood by me, trying to encourage me about so many things. The smallest stuff irritated me. I could not think straight suddenly being homeless, car-less and a future blank as a canvas.
Things got worse. Lani Kai, where I worked, had to close due to the damage, as did other businesses such as Hooters, which was completely destroyed. FEMA and the institutions that were supposed to help could not. My application was denied, and all access to resources that could help was taken away.
I pay my taxes but am denied the most basic of rights. No one cared for me, and it was not right.
I could not think! It was too heavy to ignore; citizens’ rights before, during, and after a hurricane or disaster should be protected.
Light after the storm We were jobless and homeless and our brother offered to take us in (humans and pets) and help us care for them. I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Everyone was broken, but people were still generous and willing to help with what they had.
And as I wait for Lani Kai to finish rebuilding and reapplying for my job, my girlfriend is also hopeful that her job will likely be reopened so she can resume work. Currently, we are surviving on my pool cleaning jobs, the love and generosity of my brother, and many other people in the community.
Things are coming together again—it will not be the last, but we will always survive.

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