Hurricane Irma update: Lake Okeechobee releases won’t impact Fort Myers

For more coverage of Hurricane Irma and the storm's aftermath visit: Army Corps of Engineers will start releasing water from Lake Okeechobee later this week, but no water will be coming down the Caloosahatchee River, at least for now.Lake Okeechobee is the liquid heart of what's left of the historic Everglades, and the lake was connected to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers in order to drain the wetlands for farming and development. The St. Lucie system will start to see water this week. The surface of the lake was 14.8 feet above sea level Thursday.  More: Irma update: Where to get water, food in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples More: Cape Coral's Chiquita Lock now inoperable due to damage from Hurricane Irma “The lake has risen rapidly over the past week,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville's district commander. “With projected inflows, (the lake) will rise to around 17 feet. The outflows we will begin tomorrow morning will help stem that rise though it will not stop it. With so much of hurricane season remaining, we want to slow the rise to the extent possible so we retain storage for future events.” More: Irma update: Raw sewage backs up in neighborhoods across Lee County More: Hurricane Irma update: What's that smell? Army Corps protocols say the lake should be kept between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level to protect thousands of people living south of the lake and to provide water for millions of residents and a massive agriculture industry. The Corps is not releasing water to Fort Myers because much of the area is still flooded from Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Collier County Sunday.  Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis (@ChadGillisNP) on Twitter.     Continue Reading

Fort Myers, Cape Coral, south Lee County area hit by relentless rains, flooding

A relentless rainfall pushed flooding through many neighborhoods in Lee County on Sunday, stalling vehicles, forcing road closures, allowing water to seep into homes and businesses, and forcing the evacuation of a RV resort off U.S. 41.The National Weather Service had expected up to 6 inches of rain to fall in Lee County on Sunday afternoon into Monday while at Page Field in Fort Myers 7.62 inches of rain was recorded from Friday to Sunday morning. Unofficial counts at some locations placed rainfall totals over 10 inches.And, much to the chagrin of rain-weary parents, the School District of Lee County said public schools would close Monday. Cape Coral charter schools are also closed.In Cape Coral, the three-day deluge continued to pummel the city’s roads, closing several because of flooding and creating potholes on others.“Please stay off the roads," said Donald K. Cochran, fire chief/director of emergency management, on Sunday afternoon. "Travel is very dangerous at this time. Do not drive unless absolutely necessary.”Several roads were closed in Fort Myers, as well, with Mayor Randy Henderson urging people who need help to reach out for assistance.The city issued a release that said water was getting into homes around water around Broadway, Central, Victoria and Jackson streets.At the Wilder RV Resort on U.S. 41 north of Alico Road in south Fort Myers, residents in manufactured homes, trailer RVs and drivable RVs were urged to leave as early as Saturday\.Ten Mile Canal, which runs along the rear of the resort property, collects runoff from points north into Fort Myers and east to Southwest Florida International Airport and channels it to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal overflowed its banks, spilling water into the resort as well as communities along Island Park Road.Water was lapping at the doors of many of the resort’s manufactured homes anchored on the RV park's south side and park owners were busy going Continue Reading

Flooding plagues Fort Myers, south Lee County areas, RV resort evacuated

Residents of an RV park in south Fort Myers were evacuated as a canal that flows alongside the facility overflowed its banks.Those living in manufactured homes, trailer RVs and drivable RVs were told to leave the Wilder RV Resort on U.S. 41 about a quarter-mile north of Alico Road on Saturday.10 Mile Canal collects water from points north into Fort Myers and east to Southwest Florida International Airport.Donnie and Kristie Troyer said they had moved here from Wooster, Ohio, six months ago and were now living in a motel. More: Cape Coral's water woes: From famine to flooding in only four months More: Fort Myers, Cape Coral, other parts of Lee County under flood warning More: SWFL weather: More rain is on the way for Fort Myers, Naples More: PHOTOS: Historic floods in Fort Myers, Cape Coral pulled from our archives More: Cape Coral's water woes: From famine to flooding in only four months Kristie Troyer said the couple was one of only a few people living at the resort."It's the bare minimum," she said, adding that more residents would be headed to the park in a month or two when season starts."We were told to leave Saturday afternoon," she said, when it became evident that Ten-Mile Canal, which abuts the RV park, was overflowing its banks. A drainage swale that also flows through the park after crossing under 41 was also adding copious amounts of rain-fed water to the park's interior.She added that the owners of the RV park told the couple that they hadn't seen flooding like this in 20 or more years.Water was lapping at many of the manufactured homes that are anchored on the RV park's south side and park owners were busy going door-to-door in a large white resort bus trying to see if anyone was left behind."This was home," Kristie Troyer said. "This is what we owned. Everything we owned was in our truck, our house as we call it, and a storage unit. We're living in a hotel."She said the Continue Reading

Fort Myers-area community off Island Park Road races Hurricane Irma to collect debris

For complete coverage of Hurricane Irma go to There's a furious race against time in one south Lee County community where potential wind-driven missiles left over from a recent flood lay strewn along the development's roads.Royal Woods, hit hard by the brackish waters that coursed through apartments and homes in late August, is trying to get rid of mountains of destroyed belongings that residents have piled up by their residences."We're hoping we get it out by tomorrow," Tony Farina, head of the community's board, said Thursday. "So this stuff doesn't become missiles." More: Hurricane Irma 8 p.m. update: Storm maintains strength, heading west-northwest with winds at 175 mph The stuff Farina is talking about is the remains of furniture, electronics, clothing and mementos that residents piled up after the flood.Crews from Advanced Disposal, the trash collection company that collects in Royal Woods, and Honc Destruction, have been in the community trying to get the piles, some five to 10-feet-high, cleaned up.Farina said that a lot of the mess was cleaned up only to have some residents return and add more to the debris.Logan Vallee, a Honc employee, said his crews were trying to get as much done as possible."Yes, sir, before Irma gets through and any more high water," he said.A Honc backhoe with claw attached was grabbing gobs of cast-off belongings, chairs, beds, televisions and clothing, and tossing the items into a huge, metal container.Tom Lamotte, a Royal Woods resident, said he was glad to see the cleanup but had reservations about their chances at getting done before Irma. The storm, still predicted to hit the east coast of Florida, would start bringing wind and rain sometime late Saturday. "I'm hoping they do," he said. "They just have so much."Lamotte, who said he and his wife lost everything to the flood, will be riding out the storm in Cape Coral.He pointed to commercial storage containers dotting the Continue Reading

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

Irma update: Supplies in demand in Fort Myers as stores reopen

Tuesday seemed to be the day for people to make a run on supplies as stores reopened in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Here’s a look at what workforce reporter Casey Logan and others observed Tuesday:All Publix stores in Lee and Collier counties were expected to open by 8 a.m. today, but a couple of Publix stores (the one at State Road 82 and Lee Boulevard, on the edge of Lehigh Acres and the Midpoint Publix in Cape Coral), had not opened by 9 a.m.More than 100 people stood in a line outside the Lee Boulevard store, many of them expressing frustration. (The store did reopen later).At that Publix, few perishable items were available Tuesday afternoon.The store had no offerings in the deli, fresh meat, prepared foods, or dairy aisles and the frozen food cases were empty. Some non-packaged produce was available. There was no commercial bread available.Workers were cleaning the shelving used to store perishable goods. It was busy, but orderly as people came in to get fresh supplies and groceries Tuesday morning at the Publix store on Ben C. Pratt/Six Mile Cypress Parkway, near Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.Checkout lines were not terribly long. The water shelves were empty and the deli line was long.A line of cars stretched along Colonial Boulevard near I-75 as motorists waited to fuel up at a Shell station. A man who had made his way to a pump said he waited in the line for 30 minutes.The scene was similar at other gas stations around the area, although many gas stations were not open. Gas informationTom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, offered his take late Tuesday afternoon on the state of gas.“In the parlance of fuel distributors, most Florida terminals are now ‘wet,’” he wrote. “But manic and panic behavior from the public is still being witnessed across the state, with long lines at many of the 7,200 stations, with caravans of cars even following transport trucks as Continue Reading

70,000 untested rape kits USA TODAY found is fraction of total

In Fort Myers, Fla., no one is counting how many untested rape kits sit in storage.But, neither are law enforcement officials in hundreds of departments around the country, the USA TODAY Media Network learned in its attempt to quantify the scope of a problem that keeps evidence in sexual assault cases from being used to identify suspects and potentially stop serial offenders.In a broad, department-by-department count by USA TODAY, Gannett newspapers and TEGNA television stations, journalists identified at least 70,000 untested rape kits at more than 1,000 police agencies. But, because there are 18,000-plus agencies nationwide, the 70,000 doesn't begin to tell the story.Slowly, state oversight agencies and authorities have initiated efforts to count the number of untested sexual assault kits in their jurisdictions.State laws requiring department-by-department audits or inventories of untested sexual assault kits have been enacted in recent years in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Some have been completed, and others are ongoing.Additionally, informal counts have been conducted or are being conducted by agencies in Kansas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming — even though there is no official state legislation on the books requiring inventories or setting the parameters for them.In Hillsborough County, Fla., the sheriff's office had not counted its kits until receiving a public-records request from USA TODAY. After that, the Tampa Bay area agency counted its untested kits, identifying 1,023 sexual assault evidence kits taken into custody since 2000 that were never tested.But around the rest of the nation, the accumulation of untested sexual assault kits have not been quantified — allowing an unknown number of kits to remain out of view from policymakers, rape survivors and the general public in states ranging from Florida to Arizona to Montana.Advocacy groups say an Continue Reading

Seagate to start construction of Sabbia model at Miromar Lakes

MIROMAR LAKES — Seagate Development Group LLC will start construction of its Sabbia furnished model in the Sardinia neighborhood at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club within the next 30 days. Miromar Lakes is being developed by Miromar Development Corp. and the only community in Southwest Florida to offer waterfront living, beaches, and golf all at one location.Acknowledged as the No. 1 community in the United States, Miromar Lakes was named recipient of the National Association of Home Builders’ Gold Awards for Community of the Year and Best Clubhouse, the only Florida winner in history.Priced at $4.65 million with furnishings and part of Seagate’s Beach Collection in Sardinia, the three-level, 4,782-square-foot under air Sabbia floor plan was designed by Rich Guzman at RG Designs. An additional 1,283 square feet off the ground floor’s lower foyer is designed to allow the purchaser the choice of incorporating a future recreation room, bedroom and full-bath.Freestyle Interiors’ Lead Designer Ruta Menaghlazi is creating the home’s interior design, and Outside Productions International Inc. crafted the design for the outdoor living area, an elevated pool and spa, and landscaping. Seagate expects construction of the Sabbia model to be completed in summer 2018. Situated on a lakefront home site that offers long range water views, the Sabbia’s architectural design is reminiscent of modern coastal styles. The home’s main entry is flanked by two garage areas, one of which is 67 feet long. The entry leads to the lower foyer and elevator as well as storage areas, the optional recreation room and bedroom, and a beach patio. Three guest suites with full baths, an immense great room with a sit down bar, refrigerated wine storage and built-in media center, kitchen with a catering pantry and island seating, a dining area, and a powder bath are on the first living Continue Reading

Editorial: Dollars for the environment mean we all win

We applaud Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed funding commitments to statewide water quality projects, especially for the Caloosahatchee reservoir.On Monday, Scott announced a major part of his final budget as governor, seeking $1.7 billion for environmental programs, including $355 million for Everglades restoration and $105 million for the C-43 reservoir. When completed, it’s designed to capture 55 billion gallons of stormwater runoff, which normally flows into the local basin.C-43 is important to help keep harmful water from flowing into the Caloosahatchee River and creating harmful algae blooms that not only have a devastating impact on seagrass and marine life, but also the tourism industry. Few people want to travel to the Sunshine State if they know dirty, smelly water will be part of their vacation plans.Although this funding is crucial, we encourage local officials to add a much-needed water treatment component to the C-43 project, which is scheduled to have its first storage cell done by 2022. Storing dirty water and then releasing it into the Caloosahatchee is still a hazard. Complex solutionOf course, C-43 isn’t the only solution to this complex environmental puzzle.Reinforcing the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee; other big water storage and treatment projects planned south of the lake; possible storage wells north of the lake; the continued restoration of the Kissimmee River, plus reducing nitrogen and phosphorous levels — all play crucial roles in cleaning our water.Scott’s environmental budget must be approved by the state House and Senate, but there is little chance they will fight the governor since the Florida Legislature has been a big supporter of water projects.Locally, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who is a candidate to succeed Adam Putnam as state agriculture commissioner, have been champions of clean water efforts and land conservation.Arranging Continue Reading

‘Seeing is believing’: Florida Lions Eye Clinic provides free eye care in Bonita Springs

Erika Serrato’s eyesight had been deteriorating for seven years.When she worked outside, her eyes would become painfully dry and irritated, she said through a translator.As her eye disease worsened, Serrato’s fears of blindness increased.She was suffering from pterygium, an abnormal growth of fibrovascular tissue which extends from the “white” of the eye onto the cornea and eventually over the iris.On a recent Thursday afternoon, a grateful Serrato sat in the waiting room of the Florida Lions Eye Clinic waiting for a checkup after surgery on her second eye.This was the fifth time she had traveled three hours from Dade City to the eye clinic in Bonita Springs for assessments, surgeries and follow-up appointments.Arranging transportation and finding a friend to act as an interpreter was not easy, but she was more than willing to do it.The Florida Lions Eye Clinic is the only facility in the state offering free eye care and surgeries to uninsured people living at 200 percent or more below the federal poverty line.Formerly known as the Bonita Lions Eye Clinic, it recently changed its name to reflect the greater geography of the clientele it serves, said its new Executive Director Tamika Seaton.“We have had patients come from as far as Tampa, Miami and all over the region to see us,” she said. “They didn’t have any other options.”Seaton is the only full-time employee of the clinic, which also has two part-time office assistants.Medical services are provided by a team of 19 retired and practicing physicians who volunteer their time and talent. There also are 15 volunteers from the community who help with patient interviews and initial eye screenings.Dr. Ben Martin retired from private practice in Cape Coral at the beginning of 2016. He said he was “too old to take up golf,” so he began volunteering with the Lions Clinic about eight months ago.“I just like helping people and continuing to do what Continue Reading