With roaring winds, relentless rain, and surging waves, Hurricane Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa and Fort Myers, Florida shortly after 3 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2022. For the next 24 hours, Ian would carve a path through the sunshine state, gradually weakening to a tropical storm before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Following the aftermath, more than 800 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel and contractors, including Charleston District civil engineer Molly Holt, were deployed in support of emergency response operations.
“I arrived in Fort Myers on October 16, and even though the storm was long gone, the damage it left behind was heartbreaking,” said Holt. “All we kept saying to people was that the damage was incredible and not in a good way.”
Deployed for 30 days in support of the response effort, Holt served as the mission manager and training officer for the infrastructure assessment team tasked with inspecting the safety and stability of the structures left standing.
“Our mission was to structurally assess buildings for safety and factor in life safety risks like electrical hazards and access issues,” said Holt. “I was getting chills the whole time. I’m doing my job, taking pictures and writing down notes. It was so hard to look at.”
A high-end Category 4 storm, Ian was the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since Michael in 2018 and the first Category 4 hurricane to impact Southwest Florida since Charley in 2004. The extreme winds, torrential rain, and storm surge caused between $50 to 65 billion in insured damages in western Florida.
For Holt and her team, a greater reality of the destruction was revealed as families began to come back to the places their homes once stood.
“You’re walking through this rubble and not only are many of the homes completely destroyed, but you see little pieces of personal belongings, like broken picture frames with family photos in them, clothes and children’s toys,” said Holt. “Seeing those types of things laying there makes you think about the families that lost so much and what memories and traditions these homes held and now they are just gone.”
An Ohio State University alum, Holt joined USACE in February 2020 to design and inspect projects to support civil works and military construction mission. For her, the work responding to Hurricane Ian magnified the importance of her work and provided a clearer picture of the larger USACE mission.
“Responding to Hurricane Ian and working with other engineers and inspectors from many other districts around the country provided me with a broader view of USACE and our hurricane response mission,” said Holt. “Being away from home and learning to work with people that I have never met before was a valuable experience. Though our part in the greater recovery efforts was small, I’m proud to have had the opportunity to help.”