by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Bryan and Cozette Picco, along with their puppy Charlie and three friends, sat on the back lanai of their Sanibel home protected by Kevlar storm shutters as Hurricane Ian made landfall and parked over the island for nearly four hours.
“We didn’t think the storm would be a big deal,” Bryan said. Ian was predicted to hit the Florida Panhandle, then Tampa before it made a last-minute move towards the island.
The group of friends watched the powerful category five storm blow off roofs and siding of their neighbor’s homes and drown their vehicles in the storm surge. They scrambled to rescue equipment from Bryan’s office on the ground level as water rushed toward their home.
“We watched the water rise and rise quickly,” said Cozette. “We were using the lattice on our neighbor’s home to measure how high the water was rising.” They even felt the walls and hurricane windows of their home flex under the mighty 155 mph wind of the storm.
“I knew if the big window on the front of our house blew out, we were in trouble,” said Bryan. “That was my big worry.” But it remained in place to their relief.
While the homes around them suffered major damage, the couple gives credit to the city’s building codes and DuPont Builders for the minimal damage to their two-year-old home. “I didn’t skimp on materials and followed every one of the city’s codes,” said Bryan.
He pointed to their generator and air conditioning unit as proof the city’s codes are effective. “We were at the end of the build and had built the wooden platform, when the city said we needed to raise it another foot. We did and it was that extra foot that saved them,” he said.
The Picco’s air conditioning unit and generator, left, were saved from Hurricane Ian after they raised them by another foot to follow the city’s codes. The satellite dish remains sticking up from the ground after Ian because it was set in concrete. SC photos by Shannen Hayes
Although the storm turned out to be a big deal – burying the island in sand, mud, downed power lines, debris and brown vegetation – Cozette said it was also “scary” when they left their home the first time afterwards. “I couldn’t recognize anything and didn’t know where I was,” she said. “Nothing looked familiar to me and most of the street signs were gone.”
But the Picco’s home stands proud amid the destruction around it and they have stayed on the island to help their community. “This is my community,” said Bryan. “I’m useful here.” He has been pedaling his bicycle around the island delivering water to his neighbors and helping them with anything they need. “I’m not useful if I’m anywhere else.”
They turn on the generator every evening for three hours to enjoy a little television, cool drinks in a small refrigerator on the lanai and other things which require power. “I haven’t missed Monday night football since the storm,” Bryan said with a smile.
Their home may have survived the storm, but the couple lost both of their businesses. Bryan owns a pressure washing company, Absolute Pressure, and his equipment and vehicles did not survive. Cozette’s salon was destroyed in Fort Myers. But they plan to rebuild their businesses and said they look forward to serving customers again in the near future.
Massive recovery efforts have been underway in the two weeks since the storm, but the biggest challenge has been the loss of the Sanibel Causeway – sections of it were washed away. The Piccos knew about it immediately after the storm and said they were in “awe.”
Now, they can’t wait for the island to be restored. “It is not about the set back. It is about the come back,” the couple said.