I grew up on the West Coast, so earthquakes and wildfires were part of the scenery. Fortunately, I eluded these terrifying disasters, but close friends lost everything in the North California wildfires of 2017. Homes, restaurants and wineries all went up in flames in a matter of days.
When I moved to the land of wind and rain, I pictured everyone getting in their canoes at the slightest trickle. My mom reassured me that Central Florida was pretty safe, as we live on relatively high ground.
Coastal dwellers like Casey Leader, however, weren’t so lucky last year when Ian demolished both her home and job.
“We were living in Cape Coral and working on Sanibel Island when Ian hit,” says 33-year-old Casey. “We’d been through red tides, COVID and even other hurricanes, but nothing prepared us for this,” she says.
For months in 2022, Casey and husband Daniel, 45, were preparing for a much anticipated 10-day road trip to Illinois, which coincided with the storm. They left daughter Julia and their four dogs with mother-in-law Jody.
They were already on the road when the storm shifted.
“It was supposed to hit further up towards Tampa on a Tuesday, so we weren’t really worried when we left on the previous Friday,” she says.
By the time they turned around and headed home, the rest of the family had evacuated to Miami and close friends stayed on the island until air lifted to safety.
They lost everything.
“Our furniture was soaked in seawater, the $1,500 worth of freezer food was gone, and there were pine and palm trees all over our roof and yard,” she says.
Jobless and homeless, they moved to Marion Oaks after living in her mom’s vacation rental for two weeks.
Now that she tends bar at a place called Lighthouse Point, it could be a sign of good things to come.
“Daniel is starting a handyman service and Julia is in the first grade here in The Villages®,” she says. “We had a great life, but we are very happy to be here together on higher ground.”