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A Florida native reflects on the devastating losses on Fort Myers Beach

Anita Cereceda
Special to WGCU
This is the inside of Anita Cereceda's home on Fort Myers Beach. She said it's covered in a thick and slippery muck, and that the water mark on the walls is about 10 to 11 feet high.

A Florida native and former mayor of Fort Myers Beach still can't find the words to describe the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian.

"It's like the worst apocalyptic movie you've ever seen," Anita Cereceda said.

She went to her home on the island Sunday for the first time since evacuating before Ian. She said the 1926 cottage still is standing.

"There is a massive pile of debris in front of the house, and maybe that acted as a sort of wall," she said.

Cereceda and her sister went to the home in hopes of finding 11 family and sentimental items. They found nine of them, including diamond earrings that her grandmother gave Anita Cereceda some years ago.

She said her sister spotted the red box that held the earrings. "And she pulled out the little red box with my grandmother's earrings in it, and it was covered with the mass card from my mother's funeral," Cereceda said. "I was crying. I haven't cried that hard since my father died. It was a joyous moment, but it also was so, so, so sad."

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Anita Cereceda
Special to WGCU
The outside of Cereceda's cottage on Fort Myers Beach.

Cereceda said the water mark inside the home was about 10 or 11 feet. She said the floods picked up a grand piano, turned it upside down, and then smashed it. She said the floor is covered in a thick and slippery muck.

She said she hopes her home can be salvaged and rebuilt, but won't know for sure until inspectors examine it.

Thirty-seven years ago her parents opened the Pier Peddler at Times Square on the beach. Cereceda opened another store in the square about 20 years ago. Now both are gone.

"It's like they never existed. Completely levelled," she said.

Cereceda also owns a store at the south end of the beach, where the damage is somewhat less severe than the north end. She said that store still is standing and she hopes it can be repaired and then open up again. "It's a ray of hope in my life," she said.

Cereceda has been involved in civic affairs on Fort Myers Beach for decades, and served as mayor several years ago. She said she has gained a new appreciation of the beachfront, now cleared of buildings.

"It's almost primal in its beauty," she said. "Quite spectacular. The reason so many folks came here is for that beach. And it's still here."

All the more reason, she said, to build again on Fort Myers Beach.

"That is our tag line now: We are resilient," she said.

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Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.