Each Sunday, the bulletin at St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel offers an update on the latest efforts to recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian after the barrier island and Parish were overwhelmed by storm surge and wind damage.
It is Pastor Father Edward Martin’s goal to ensure that the rebuild goes as quickly and smoothly as possible. Father also wants to be sure to keep parishioners appraised on what is taking place and how the Parish is moving forward through the complicated process while dealing with city code and compliance requirements, contractors and much more.
While each step in the recovery is important, it can sometimes be difficult to envision when the work will be done when delays are taking place due to supply-chain issues or other factors. When Hurricane Ian roared ashore with winds near 155 mph and a storm surge of 10 feet inundating Sanibel, the storm and severely impacted every home and business. The storm wrecked the Parish priest rectory, while saltwater intruded into the Parish church and hall. While the amount of water inside was only a few inches, the impacts were severe.
The severity was caused by the corrosive nature of saltwater, combined with a lack of access to the island for several weeks as the Sanibel Causeway was repaired. A Diocesan team accessed the island by boat to view the damage and determine what needed to be done to prevent further damage, but by the time the Causeway reopened and the island, county, state, and federal authorities determined it was safe to allow access for contractors, more damage had occurred.
This delay meant the water had time to be absorbed by the drywall, flooring, furniture, equipment doors, and pews. Once the property was accessible, contractors brought in heavy equipment and dryers to help mitigate further damage. This is the standard process for the Diocese Buildings Department for areas impacted by natural disasters.
Once detailed assessments were made of the property, it was determined that the rectory was a total loss and that the drywall and floors of the church and hall needed to be removed. Some additional drywall and ceiling work was needed because of damage to the roof and HVAC systems in both buildings. In addition, nearly the entire contents of both buildings needed to be replaced.
Father Martin said there have been great improvements made at the Parish and across the island since Hurricane Ian, but most understand why all the work isn’t completed as they deal with their own recovery.
“Everyone here on Sanibel has suffered. We are going through this together,” Father Martin said. “People are buoyed by any progress, and when you hear stories of the work being done each day, that is uplifting for everyone. Here, the work to clean up the property and fix the landscaping has made a huge difference in how everyone feels. It is good to see, and we are blessed with all of the support we have received since the hurricane.”
Joe Rego, Diocese of Venice Director of Building and Construction said “by mid-April the drywall work in the church and hall were completed. Next, we are in the process of securing flooring proposals as well as waterproofing in the church.”
The main doors to the church and hall are being replaced. However, due to their size and a need to ensure they can handle any future hurricanes, getting them replaced is still a few months away.
Another example of both progress and delays are the new pews. Rego explained how the replacements were ordered three months ago, but there is up to an eight-month lead time to get them delivered and installed. The progress in the hall is further along, but the floors and kitchen are still in process, again due to unforeseen delays. Meanwhile, the HVAC systems to both buildings have been replaced, but final repairs to the roof are awaiting materials.
“This is not unique to St. Isabel. We are seeing these issues everywhere within the disaster zone. If we had all the supplies available, we’d be much further along in the recovery, but that just isn’t the reality,” Rego said.
The initial progress of mitigation was first evident Dec. 11, 2022, when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass returned after an absence of 74 days.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the first Mass after Hurricane Ian, saying he was humbled to be with the parishioners and to pray with them in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Dewane said that we are united in the Holy Eucharist, and prayed that the grace of the Lord gives the faithful the strength needed to rebuild from Hurricane Ian.
The Bishop stressed that as difficult as it was to see the church and Parish property with such extensive damage, “the physical church is just a building. You are the Church! What is strong is the people who make up the Church.”
During his visit, Bishop Dewane was given a tour of the property to see firsthand the extent of the damage and what was needed for a complete recovery.
Since that Sunday in December, Father Martin has been celebrating Mass as mats cover a floor which was stripped bare to the concrete base. With the pews removed, folding chairs are in their place.
“We were blessed that the main sanctuary, where the altar and tabernacle are located, was untouched by the hurricane. What we have left is a bit primitive, but it works,” Father said.
When the work in the hall is completed, the Mass will be temporarily transferred to help facilitate the reconstruction of the church.
The repair work will take time to be completed, as the devastation is unprecedented, not only to the people of Sanibel, but to the entire region which received extreme damage from Hurricane Ian while displacing thousands.