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Ian cut off residents of Florida's Pine Island. They are just now taking stock

Debbie Lewis and Diana Bisson, partners of 43 years, in the kitchen of their home in the Flamingo Bay neigborhood in Pine Island Island, Fla. on Oct. 3, 2022 after Hurricane Ian ravaged the area.
Carlos Osorio for NPR
Debbie Lewis and Diana Bisson, partners of 43 years, in the kitchen of their home in the Flamingo Bay neigborhood in Pine Island Island, Fla. on Oct. 3, 2022 after Hurricane Ian ravaged the area.

Updated October 5, 2022 at 8:06 AM ET

PINE ISLAND, Fla. — Pine Island, a barrier island off of Florida's southwest coast, only had one link to the mainland — a bridge that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian and is now impassible.

Residents of the island have been largely cut off from the rest of the world since Ian made landfall last week. For them, the search and recovery effort is only just beginning.

Those who evacuated only have one way back to survey what's left of their homes and possessions: by private boat.

Destroyed homes on Pine Island Road on Matlacha.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Destroyed homes on Pine Island Road on Matlacha.
Pictures in the home of Debbie Lewis and Diana Bisson, partners of 43 years, in the Flamingo Bay neigborhood in Pine Island Island Fla. on October 3, 2022 after Hurricane Ian ravaged the area.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Pictures in the home of Debbie Lewis and Diana Bisson, on Pine Island, Fla., on Monday.
The view from Lenny Sattani's backyard, where a helicopter hovers over mangroves cluttered with kayaks and debris washed in by Hurricane Ian's storm surge.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
The view from Lenny Sattani's backyard, where a helicopter hovers over mangroves cluttered with kayaks and debris washed in by Hurricane Ian's storm surge.

Today, instead of beers and bros, a party pontoon is full of gas cans, bottled water and anxious people. Residents, trying to get back home to pick up the pieces, if any pieces are left.

Adding to the nerves are the rumors of looting — despite there being very few confirmed cases, many of the folks on the boat are prepared for the worst.

The last time Lenny Sattani saw his home in Matlacha, it was flooded with 5 feet of storm surge. Matlacha, also cut off from the mainland, is a smaller island sitting between the mainland and Pine Island.

Sattani is a property manager for several vacation rentals on the island. He stayed during Ian so he could keep an eye on them. Sattani, his daughter and grandkids had to be rescued by the fire department after the storm passed. He's coming back now with his son-in-law to see what they can salvage in the ruins of his house — and hopefully locate some credit cards and medical records.

Lenny Sattani hopped on a pontoon boat run by volunteers who were ferrying people back and forth to Matlacha and Pine Island, Fla.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Lenny Sattani hopped on a pontoon boat run by volunteers who were ferrying people back and forth to Matlacha and Pine Island, Fla.
Lenny Sattani returned to his home on Matlacha to pack up whatever he could salvage.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Lenny Sattani returned to his home on Matlacha to pack up whatever he could salvage.
A maze off electrical wiring is seen on Matlacha.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
A maze of electrical wiring is seen on Matlacha.

As the barge fights a strong current and weaves around port-a-potties, sunken sailboats, twisted metal roofs, and other debris in the water, Sattani gets a good look at the destruction on shore.

"Oh look at the Hooked restaurant. I eat breakfast there. No more, I guess. That's completely gone," he said, pointing to what remains of the Hooked Island Grill.

In some spots, you'd never know homes and a road used to exist where now there's only a hole filled with black, brackish water.

The passengers get off in a waterfront park caked with mud that smells like sewage and walk a mile or so down what used to be the main tourist district, full of pastel painted bungalows. Utility poles, pieces of houses and a huge walk-in freezer from a restaurant block the road.

An American flag on a dock as seen from a ferry carrying passengers to Matlacha Island and Pine Island, Fla. on Oct.3, 2022.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
An American flag on a dock as seen from a ferry carrying passengers to Matlacha and Pine Island.
With no roads passable. Dalton Wells and Jacob Stevens volunteered their boat to ferry people back and forth to Matlacha and Pine Island on Monday.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
With no roads passable. Dalton Wells and Jacob Stevens volunteered their boat to ferry people back and forth to Matlacha and Pine Island on Monday.
People cross a makeshift bridge on Pine Island Road on Matlacha.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
People cross a makeshift bridge on Pine Island Road on Matlacha.

At a semi-collapsed bridge, someone has pulled a piece of dock over the gap so people can walk across.

Lenny Sattani's two bedroom yellow fishing bungalow doesn't have a roof anymore. A chunk of it blocks the doorway.

Inside is a mess of mud, with furniture and belongings flung everywhere by the storm surge. Sattani's son-in-law forces the door open and starts to dig around.

Sattani piles some photos, his old army uniform, and those credit cards he had been hoping to find into a container, and wheels it away down the street, off to flag a boat to the mainland.

He's not coming back.

Others are staying on the island, or never left, including John Orbanus.

The trailer park where he lived on the south side of Pine Island is in rough shape. There's damage to every home — some are completely reduced to rubble.

Orbanus' home has no roof, but he's better off than his neighbors, three of whom are now staying with him.

Lenny Sattani and his son-in-law Shaun Rebis go through Sattani's home to salvage what they can.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Lenny Sattani and his son-in-law Shaun Rebis go through Sattani's home to salvage what they can.
John Orbanus walks through rubble in the backyard of his home in the Flamingo Bay neighborhood of Pine Island.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
John Orbanus walks through rubble in the backyard of his home in the Flamingo Bay neighborhood of Pine Island.
Downed power lines on Pine Island are visible on Monday.
/ Carlos Osorio for NPR
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Carlos Osorio for NPR
Downed power lines on Pine Island are visible on Monday.

One of them is 75-year-old Diana Bisson. At night, she sleeps on Orbanus' kitchen floor. During the day, she and her partner sort through what's left of the home they shared for 28 years.

Their cars are totaled; they're throwing out all their clothes.

"I lost both my son's ashes," Bisson says. "They were in my room, they're gone. I have been all through that whole thing."

She was able to recover a short gold chain that used to belong to her older son.

"I found it and I'll never take it off now," she says.

Bisson and her partner are planning to leave as soon as the road is passable — they've heard maybe Saturday.

She doesn't know if they'll be back, but this will always be home, even though it'll never be the same, she says.

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