Hurricane Ian Washed Away Income For Many Floridians

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Hurricane Ian Washed Away Income For Many Floridians
After Hurricane Ian, many Floridians are relying on savings or the help of others to get by, while others' jobs simply washed away.

Jessica Coppola says she's living a nightmare she wishes she could shake.

"It doesn't feel like it actually happened," Coppola said.

Coppola lived and worked on Fort Myers beach — a town ravaged by Hurricane Ian and now closed off to the public.

"My house is gone," Coppola said. "It's completely destroyed. My car's completely destroyed. Everything I've ever owned is gone." 

Coppola says she clung to her life with her two dogs on top of her car as Hurrricane Ian tore through her town.

Like many in the path of Hurricane Ian, the destructive storm took not just her possessions but also her livelihood.

Coppola was one of more than 100 employees who worked at Shucker's at the Gulfshore and the Cottage Bar – for many, a main source of income.

"It meant a lot," bartender Cole Mazza said. "I worked full-time there five days a week."

Mazza's home flooded, and he says his car is ruined.

The catastrophic storm flattened the 100-year-old business that survived more than 60 hurricanes.

"I was heartbroken," Coppola said. "I didn't understand why or how it could just be gone, like it never even existed."

The only thing left standing was an American flag – a symbol of a united front in the face of massive devastation. 

The storm, however, didn't break the spirit of a closely tied team, who's leaning on the  words, "Our building may be gone, but our friendships cannot be washed away."

Brian Nagle, the general manager of the restaurant and bar, says they came together to collect and donate clothes, water, food and necessary essentials to help employees and their community.

"Thankfully we have some very generous owners that are taking care of any salaried positions for a pretty good length of time," Nagle said. 

But the need is much greater. To help, the business also launched a fundraiser on their website to help employees now out of a job.

Hurricane Ian destroyed hotels, restaurants and countless businesses, leaving hundreds, if not thousands, out of jobs.

"It's just unthinkable, unimaginable," bartender Christine Salmons said. "I would say the higher percentage of our employees lost everything."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waived requirements to allow Floridians impacted by the hurricane to quickly apply for unemployment disaster assistance. He predicts jobs will return soon, though maybe in different fields. 

"Our unemployment rate prior to the storm was 2.7%; nationwide it was 3.7%," DeSantis said. "There's still a lot of opportunity in this state. This area will bounce back very quickly. We're going to make sure of that.  But if you need different job opportunities, they're there in Florida."

For many there, the needs are immediate. Some say they're living off their savings and generous donations from family and friends to just stay afloat.

"I had some of my friends already came to see me, and they dropped off stuff," Coppola said. "I got lucky that I have people that I can rely on to help me out."