‘There’s No Spring Break Here’: Florida’s Gulf Coast Fights to Rebound After Hurricane Ian

For now, a visit to the area is more a pledge of support than a vacation.

On a sunny day in early February, Lisa Taussig of Overland Park, Kan., and Christy, her adult daughter, were among the few tourists on the beach in front of the Island Inn, where they were staying. They come to the island about three times a year, Ms. Taussig said, and this year is no different. “After the storm passed, we just said, ‘You know what? We’re going to come down here and support Sanibel,’” she said.

“You feel welcome here,” she added, before turning and gesturing to the series of plywood-covered, battered condo buildings behind her. “Now it feels isolated, and there aren’t the lush trees that are usually here.”

“It breaks your heart,” she said.

In Fort Myers Beach, residents still pick up their mail at a trailer. Glass, nails and unidentifiable twisted debris remain scattered along the ground. Around town, many flags, bumper stickers and T-shirts are emblazoned with “FMB STRONG.”

On a recent Saturday, a tiny spot called the Beach Bar was packed with a crowd of locals who looked storm-weary but exuded an ornery refusal to retreat. Even before the storm, the bar’s physical structure — right off Estero Boulevard, the beach strip that’s historically packed with visitors cruising in top-down vehicles — didn’t amount to much: It was a two-story, open-air wooden building facing the water. Now, only the concrete slab remains.

But that hasn’t stopped the regulars. The crowd showed up with beach chairs and coolers, which they set up on the concrete. “They’re operating right now with a trailer, two outhouses and a band,” said Randy Deutsch, 72, from Chicago, who said he’d been coming to the bar since 1972.

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