Science and Health

Some Matlacha Island Homes Are Sinking After Hurricane Ian

Matlacha Island residents say older sea walls didn't hold up to Ian's storm surge and now sea water is rapidly eroding soil underneath structures.

Some Matlacha Island Homes Are Sinking After Hurricane Ian
Gerald Herbert / AP
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Jane and Paul Ott, who own a house in Matlacha, say they are in total disbelief. 

"It's no longer my paradise. This was a dream home," Jane said. "It's just heartbreaking… "

The vacation waterfront house they bought over a year ago suffered major damage from Hurricane Ian's devastating storm surge.

"He let me cry for about ten minutes and then it was, 'Well it's not going to change so… put your gloves on, put your mask on and start hulling stuff out,'" Jane continued.

The couple's home was among many structures that were battered in Matlacha, a small island of about 600 people at the foot of Pine Island, which was also devastated by Ian. 

"Look up down the street. I've never seen destruction like this," Jane said. 

The couple and other residents say their homes and businesses are crumbling at a rapid pace into the bay.

The storm surge damaged some of the older sea walls that protect the buildings' foundations, causing erosion beneath the structures.

Most of the cottages on the island were built in the 1940s and 1950s, so they don't comply with newer construction regulations, like a newer property that had to be elevated a couple of feet above ground. 

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Meanwhile, chaos ensues on the only roadway access to Matlacha, while crews work on repaving the road. 

The trip normally takes 10-15 minutes from Cape Coral. It took Newsy two and half hours to get onto Matlacha.

What used to be homes and businesses are now reduced to piles of ruble. 

"Just looking up and down the street is kind of depressing. Just all the stuff," Jane said.

The floodwaters also made it to Johnny Glisson's home of 15 years. 

"It has three to four inches of mud from the front to the back," Matlacha resident Johnny Glisson said.

He lost all of his belongings. The 74-year-old says he almost didn't make it off the community. 

"When I felt it wasn't going to turn, I grabbed the most important things in my life, which was my guitar and my Bible. So, I took off with that," he said.

Most of Matlacha's property owners are retired folks, commercial fishermen and others who use their houses as vacation homes.

Matlacha is in Lee County, the region with the highest number of deaths in Florida from the storm. 

"Sometimes you just don't know where to start," Paul said.

As for Jane and Paul Ott, their cleaning continues. They say there's hope. They dream of rebuilding their home, the house they bought through years of hard work.