Fort Myers, Cape Coral spend another queasy, uneasy day preparing for Hurricane Irma

For complete coverage of Hurricane Irma go to If Wednesday was the day of the waiting game, Thursday’s focus turned to serious worry as deadly Hurricane Irma continued to advance toward Florida.Tension ratcheted higher when Lee County officials opened shelters and ordered evacuations of its barrier islands and all mobile and manufactured homes starting Friday. Sanibel has already ordered tourists off the island and Fort Myers Beach's Pink Shell resort will empty its rooms Friday morning. Quests for water, gas and batteries became increasingly frantic, and often fruitless. Plywood lines turned Old Metro into a one-way street that required Fort Myers police to direct the stream of traffic. To the dismay of regulars, popular Tropical Hardware in downtown Fort Myers was boarded-up and closed by noon Thursday More: Hurricane Irma could create one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history More: Hurricane Irma nears the Turks and Caicos Islands, heading toward the Bahamas A low current of anxiety hummed just below the surface of most social interactions, but most people seemed to be on their best behavior. Store clerks replaced their standard goodbyes with “Good luck,” “Stay dry,” and “Be safe.” Facebook feeds filled with posts about how to charge a cell phone with a ballpoint spring and a 9-volt, how crowded I-75 was, which Publixes had water, and which were dry.One exception to the mounting pressure was the general easing of the gasoline frenzy. Compared to the previous two days, the atmosphere at stations in the Fort Myers area seemed calmer Thursday morning, as local drivers had already fueled up or made their way north.On a drive through south Fort Myers, several gas stations were without gas, while others did have gas and still others had some grades of gas. Most of those with gas were not as busy Thursday as they had been Continue Reading

Hurricane Irma: South Fort Myers impact

 Ben Hemmen, the chief executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Fort Myers Miracle, said power went out at his place in Lakewood Village around 9:30 a.m. Sunday.Hemmen worked with county officials earlier this week getting Hammond Stadium hurricane ready the past couple of days. He said Miracle staff has worked until past midnight the past couple of nights to make sure the clubhouse and stadium is safe.Emergency Management has coordinated with fire districts, emergency medical services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard to use the stadium properties to stage equipment.The Miracle’s season ended Wednesday in the Florida State League Championship when a walk-off hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning handed the Palm Beach Cardinals (2-0) a share of the 2017 FSL Championship. Their 3-2 win over the Miracle (0-2) gave them the sweep in the best-of-three series. • The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore is in town, at Gulf Coast Town Center.Cantore said that all hotels in the area are sold out.Cantore also noted that on Sept. 10, 1960, Hurricane Donna hammered the Florida Keys as well as Southwest Florida. Continue Reading

Hurricane Irma: Congestion on I-75 making evacuation for Fort Myers-area residents a chore

For complete Hurricane Irma coverage visit:"If you haven't left yet, God help you!"Bob Rathgeber, a Lee County resident, had that sentiment Thursday after he and his wife drove more than nine hours for the normal three to four hour trip to Gainesville.The local couple was part of a phalanx of Southwest Florida residents leaving the areain advance of the possible South Florida affects of Hurricane Irma.Early on the flow of I-75 through Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties showed fast and smooth on Thursday morning but faurther north, past the Tampa area, portions were clogged and slow moving due to residents heading away from potential Hurricane Irma damage.According to the Florida 511 web site and confirmed by Florida Highway Patrol Troop F spokesman Lt. Greg Bueno, Southwest Florida's portion of the freeway was running as usual for a weekday."Flowing well, no crashes," Bueno reported.However, an alert issued by the state said motorists could expect delays on I-75 northbound in Sumter and Marion counties approaching Florida's Turnpike through just outside of Ocala.Governor Rick Scott also activated a transportation hotline, 1-800-955-5504.Rathgeber said he and his wife Karon left the Fort Myers area Wednesday morning at 10:30 with parts of I-75 where the flow was 70 miles an hour or more and times of parking lot conditions.The choked conditions started in Charlotte County, he said."We were supposed to be in Atlanta (Wednesday) night," he said. "We were too tired and drivers were starting to get like maniacs. So w pulled over into a rest area south of Macon (Georgia) and slept in the car." The couple was headed to Atlanta and a hotel room they had reserved. Rathgeber said those who had not yet reserved a room were out-of-luck."There are no hotel rooms anywhere," he said. "Even in Atlanta."He said the couple had seen and talked to quite a few Lee County residents during their epic journey."The drive seemed like it took Continue Reading

Hurricane Irma: Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples cope with storm on social media

Hurricane Irma has been tracking through the Atlantic and poses a threat to all of Florida, and it has many on social media on edge.Hurricane Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 hurricane as it approaches Florida with the forecast cone continuing to show the storm's path across the center of Florida. More: Hurricane Irma: Updated closings and cancellations in SWFL More: Hurricane Irma: Cape Coral struggles with trash pick up after holiday, pre-storm More: Preparing for a hurricane: Here's the supplies you need The window to prepare and put your hurricane plans is closing fast, and many in Southwest Florida have their cupboards stocked and homes shuttered up tight.Now, the waiting game begins.We're hearing from readers on our Facebook page, asking questions and sharing tips for getting ready for Irma. Many are even pointing to some of the local flooding and the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in Texas as their wake-up call Lee County Schools and District offices will be closed on Monday, September 11th.Heather Muckle writes that "we probably wouldn't have reacted in panic had we not been surprised and trapped by the Island Park flooding last week. Our neighborhood is already depleted from that. Many neighbors spent Labor Day weekend helping each other clean up. Tuesday night we all helped each other board up and pack up because we anticipate it will flood again. But, no one knows the outcome yet. We can only prepare and be kind!"Michelle Berkley shares her tips to "fill up empty jugs, pitchers, soda bottles, thermoses etc with tap water from your kitchen faucet! Some long-time Floridians believe we need to stay calm.Will Louis Harris says that "People need to stop freaking out. Am I the only one just sitting here thinking it's just another day. We will all be fine. It will be a 3 by the time it gets near us if it doesn't shift anymore east."Cindie Young Watson replied to Will: "Have you been through a Continue Reading

Fort Myers Beach residents, businesses prepared, not panicked for Hurricane Irma

Some are staying. Some are leaving. But those still on Fort Myers Beach sounded prepared, not panicked.And none seemed to be taking Hurricane Irma cavalierly.“We’re always worried. We try to keep it concern more than worried,” said Doug Kiesel, 61, of Gulf Marine Ways, a family shipyard that has been on San Carlos Island just before Matanzas Bridge since the 1950s and been through multiple hurricanes dating back to Hurricane Donna in 1960.“It’s very guarded concern for the boats in the yard, for the people, for the community.”Streets and parking lots were mostly empty Friday morning on Fort Myers Beach, with many businesses already boarded up or doing so.“Anybody that is staying is prepared,” said Loretta Beck, who lives off Old McGregor Boulevard in south Fort Myers and is a bartender at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café on San Carlos Island.“We have our generators. We boarded up our windows. We’ve been through it before. Hurricane Charley (in 2004) was a Category 4. We survived that. You just have to have a good attitude and do what you have to do.”At Lani Kai Island Resort, staff was putting up plywood througout the property while office staff was working to get 50 more sheets of plywood delivered to the resort.A mandatory evacuation was issued Thursday for the barrier islands in Southwest Florida. But some resort guests had not chosen to leave the property as of Friday morning, opting like others in the area to try riding out the storm where they are rather than find a shelter or alternate location.“We don’t want to put them on the street and have nowhere to go,” Lani Kai general manger Larry Puccia said of guests staying. “A lot of people are from out of the state. They don’t know where to go.”Kiesel, who lives in a mobile home on San Carlos Island around the corner from the shipyard, recalled the now-debunked fable of people defiantly having a Continue Reading

As options to flee Hurricane Irma dwindle, Fort Myers area readies itself for storm’s wrath

As Hurricane Irma loomed closer, Southwest Floridians were in full hunker mode, whether at home or in shelters throughout the region.If they hadn’t already left the area, it was too late to try, warned Gov. Rick Scott.With highway arteries including I-75 blocked at major interchanges, Scott urged people to pull off and look for a local shelter instead."There's a shelter open in every county," Scott said. "Find a place to go and get safe. If you have been ordered to evacuate, and are still home — please go," he said. "Today is the day to do the right thing for your family and get inland to safety." For complete coverage of Hurricane Irma go to At a briefing, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said he'd heard reports of employers refusing to give people time to prepare. “That seems wrong,” he said, encouraging employers to do the right thing and give their people time. “This is a safety issue.”All of Lee County’s barrier islands, mobile and manufactured homes were under mandatory evacuation orders as were many as communities in Hendry County, with the county’s emergency management sending buses to some low-lying communities to help immobile residents evacuate.“We’ve got buses that are going to start transporting people from those areas that absolutely need it,” said Emily Hunter, the county’s emergency management spokeswoman.Gas was available here and there, as pickings became increasingly slim for those looking to fortify their homes. More: Hurricane Irma: Mandatory evacuations for some areas west of U.S. 41 in Lee County Nora Perretta of San Carlos Park coundn’t find any plywood at The Home Depot in south Fort Myers on Friday morning, so instead, she got fencing to secure a north-facing window in the front of her home.Wendy Huaman of Fort Myers was holding her 11-month-old as her spouse awaited pickup in the parking lot. They had lumber Continue Reading

Hurricane Irma: Closings, openings, cancellations in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and the rest of SWFL

Here’s a list of closings, openings and cancellations caused by Hurricane Irma in Southwest Florida.Closings, openings and cancellations:Edison & Ford Winter Estates The Fort Myers museum and historic site will be closed for the rest of the week as staff cleans up the gardens. The Estates suffered no major structural damage. For more information, call 334-7419 or visit Big Orange Music Fest The Sept. 8-9 music fest has been postponed and a new date will be announced later, according to the fest’s website. The Saturday main event was scheduled to feature the bands Los Lobos and JJ Grey and Mofro. For current ticket holders, tickets eventually will be reissued with the new date on them. Refunds won’t be issued “due to circumstances outside of our control,” the website states. For updates, visit May The portly, potty-mouthed comedian won’t be performing this month. The shows have been moved to Jan. 4-7. For more information, visit MORE: How to stay safe after the stormCircuit Court All courthouses of the 20th Judicial Circuit and also the State Attorney's Office will be closed through Tuesday. That includes courthouses in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. HOWL The Fort Myers tattoo parlor and concert venue is closed through Tuesday. State parks  The Florida Park Service has closed 168 state parks until further notice, including Cayo Costa State Park, Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, Collier-Seminole State Park, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Don Pedro Island State Park, Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Gasparilla Island State Park, Koreshan State Historic Site, Lovers Key State Park, Manatee Springs State Park, Mound Key Archaeological State Park and Stump Pass Beach State Park. For updates, Continue Reading

Sand for Fort Myers residents available to combat Irma; Cape Coral not providing sandbags

Sand for sandbags is available for Fort Myers residents while Cape Coral will not provide either sand or bags for its residents.Free self-service sand is available at two locations for Fort Myers residents and business owners in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. One site is at 2300 Peck St., in front of the former Atlantic Coast Line train station, near the Intersection of Central Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and at Fire Station No. 5, 9700 Treeline Ave., south of Pelican Preserve Blvd.). More: Hurricane Irma as it relates to Southwest Florida: What we know now More: Hurricane Irma: Electric utilities preparing for storm's arrival Fort Myers ran out of sand bags less than an hour after the sites were opened, however residents who have their own bags will be able to fill them at the above locations. Residents will also need to provide their own shovel to fill the bags. There is a limit of 20 bags per vehicle.A Cape Coral Fire Department spokeswoman said the city would not provide sand or sandbags."Scientific research has proven that sandbags are ineffective at protecting homes from storm surge and that several hundred would be required to protect just one home or business from low-level flooding," said Andrea Schuch, public education specialist/public information officer, Cape Coral Fire Department, in a prepared release. More: Hurricane Irma update: Winds increase to 185 mph People can pick up sand at various locations. People should bring shovels and their own bags. If sandbags cannot be found, other items such as pillow cases, garbage bags and rolled tarps can be used. Here is an updated list as of Wednesday afternoon: Lee County locations:5850 BUCKINGHAM RD., LEHIGH12345 PALM BEACH BLVD., FORT MYERS2660 STYLES RD., ALVA5700 PINE ISLAND RD., BOKEELIA17350 NALLE RD., NORTH FORT MYERS11901 REGIONAL LN., FORT MYERS1280 BARRETT RD. NORTH FORT MYERS2900 TRAIL DAIRY CIR., NORTH FORT MYERS FD8013 Continue Reading

Halloween events tonight in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Naples, SWFL

Ready to get scared? Here are some of the spookiest events happening in Southwest Florida this month: ONGOINGGreenwell’s Haunted Hike The 26th annual scarefest features 16 terrifying scenes in the woods. Enter at your own risk. 7:30-11 p.m. (event starts at dark). Oct. 27, 28, 30 and 31. $13 general admission, $20 FastPass ticket. Parking is $2. Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A-Ball & Family Fun Park, 35 N.E. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral. 574-4386 or greenwellsfamilyfunpark.comFort Myers Fall Festival at the Farm This kid-friendly event features hayrides (including a haunted one), a petting zoo with farm animals, vendors, music and a pumpkin patch. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Southern Fresh Farms, 8500 Penzance Blvd., Fort Myers. 768-0309 or MORE:  SWFL LIVE!: Chicago, Pop Evil, Newsboys and more bands in Fort Myers, Cape Coral area in OctoberSpooktacular Halloween cruises Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise celebrates Halloween all month long with themed cruises, costume contests, games, spooky stories, prizes and more. The cruises include family-friendly offerings, a murder-mystery cruise and a masquerade-ball cruise celebrating the birth of “Captain Redrum.” $25-$40. The Pieces of Eight pirate ship departs from Salty Sam’s Marina, 2500 Main St., Fort Myers Beach. 765-7272 or floridapiratecruise.comFall and Halloween Festival This daily festival features rides, a huge pumpkin patch, games, family activities, the "Halloween Express" train and a collection of creative scarecrows entered into the festival's annual "Scarecrows in the Park" contest. 6-9 p.m. today through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free admission, but some activities and rides cost extra ($2-$14, depending on the activity). Parking is $1 per hour or $5 all day. Lakes Regional Park, 7330 Gladiolus Drive, south Fort Myers. 533-7575 or leeparks.orgHaunted Walk This 33rd annual Haunted Walk brings fear Continue Reading

Fall openings: New restaurants spring up in Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral

In the topsy-turvy world that is the local dining scene, a reversal of seasons only makes sense. Spring is when restaurants close, when those that didn't capture the bounty of our tourist-heavy winter months wither away and lock their doors. Fall is the time of hope and rebirth, as new restaurants burst through trying to snag their piece of the high-season pie.And this fall is certainly bursting. "It's as good a time as any," said Greg Gebhard, co-owner of Nice Guys Pizza in south Cape Coral and a partner in nearby Danger, Danger which plans to open by December. "We've still been slammed (at Nice Guys), so the goal here is to make sure everything's bangin' and just right before opening."Fall in Southwest Florida is a sweet spot for restaurant newcomers — slow enough for new servers and cooks to learn, but busy enough to keep them paid. More:Dining and restaurants Also:  Stone crab season off to solid start in Southwest FloridaAccording to 2015 data compiled for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, October to December were the rebound months where visitor spending jumped from a mere $490 million over the summer to a healthier $664 million. In January to March of that year, visitors spent $1.12 billion. Hurricane Irma has, of course, put her twist on things, forcing delays for many by stretching contractors and construction crews thin. "It pushed us back a few weeks, for sure," Sal Basile, owner of the forthcoming Saucy Meatball in Gateway said, "but we're getting there. It's coming together."More than 35 new restaurants plan to open throughout Lee and northern Collier counties between now and the end of the year, with even more having opened since September.More: Sails Restaurant to launch at Fifth and Third in Naples More:  Kitchen opens in downtown Naples Here's a look at who's who:Fall's restaurant bountyNorth NaplesCasamigos: Continue Reading