Mitch Pacyna and his wife, Mary Wojciechowski, had weathered other hurricanes in their 27 years on Fort Myers Beach, Fla., and decided to ride out Hurricane Ian on the palmy barrier island along southwestern Florida’s coast.
But as the monster storm began to mow down houses around them, Mr. Pacyna posted videos of the churning floodwaters sweeping away bar stools and a generator. “WE’RE TERRIFIED!!” he wrote in a final Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Pacyna, 74 — a gregarious fixture of beach life known to friends as “the mayor” — was killed as he and his wife, who survived, tried to flee to safety during the storm, his daughter, Michelle Schuline said.
His death was part of a grim toll that came into clearer view on Friday, as officials in Florida said that at least three dozen deaths had likely been caused by the storm, including 16 in Lee County, where Fort Myers Beach is — a toll they expected to rise.
“The building they were in was being torn apart,” Ms. Schuline said, recalling her father as a devoted Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks fan who had recently traveled to see his granddaughters graduate from high school and college. “They were trying to get to higher ground.”
Across southwest Florida’s barrier islands, where Ian came ashore on Wednesday as one of the strongest storms to make landfall in U.S. history, many were uncertain about how long — if ever — it might take to recover. Gov. Ron DeSantis called the islands “ground zero” in a news briefing on Friday.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” said Dana Gosford, an owner of Shucker’s, a century-old seafood restaurant and bar that was flattened by the storm. “We’re just — I don’t know if we’re going to be rebuilding at this point. We’re just still in shock.”
After surveying the damage from the air, Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s former emergency management chief, estimated that 80 percent of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel may need to be rebuilt. A causeway bridge that had been Sanibel Island’s only road link to the mainland was shorn apart by the storm, further isolating anyone who remained.