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Southwest Florida has always been one of the Sunshine State's tourism gems, even if it doesn't have the high profile of Orlando's theme parks or Miami and its chic coolness, the history of St. Augustine, or the islands of the Keys.
But it is idyllic. From the tony, upscale city of Naples, north to Fort Myers and its famous Sanibel and Captiva Island beaches, up through to Sarasota en route to Tampa, Southwest Florida is a hidden treasure. Tourists have flocked to the quieter, Gulf of Mexico side of Florida for generations-inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford loved it so much they even built homes in Fort Myers.
Now, it will take years to recover, both residentially and from a tourism standpoint.
Southwest Florida has been devastated by Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that experts say was the fifth-worst hurricane ever to hit Florida-and certainly, nothing like the Gulf Coast has ever seen. There have been more than 100 deaths attributed to the storm, so tourism is more than likely an afterthought as the region begins to clean up.
But it is still in the minds of officials.
"It's all just completely gone," Sanibel's city manager Dana Souza told Reuters. "Our electric system is pretty much destroyed; our sewer system has been damaged badly and our public water supply is under assessment."
Further, the bridges to Sanibel and Captiva were destroyed by Ian, as was the causeway to popular Fort Myers Beach. Nearby Cape Coral is still having power supply issues as well.
In the meantime, the South Florida area and its hotels are welcoming evacuees from the Southwest part of the state. The Mami and Fort Lauderdale area-about a two-hour drive from the Fort Myers-Naples region across the bottom of the state on I-75, or Alligator Alley, as it is known-has seen hotels lower their rates as those who evacuated before and now after the hurricane seek shelter.
According to Local News 10, South Beach Group Hotels has dropped rates to as low as just $50 a night through October 6 for those looking to escape the Gulf Coast and wait for power, cell service and internet to be restored.
"We all got together as a company and said we have to help our neighbors and we got together and said what can we do?" said Chris Rollins of South Beach Group.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau previously announced discounted hotel rates that ran through October 1, but as more displaced people seek a place to stay it is possible the sale will be revisited.
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Rich Thomaselli is a 33-year writing veteran of newspapers, magazines, digital publications and more. He is an 11-time writing...
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