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People who worked for years on dream homes see them destroyed by Ian

People who worked for years on dream homes see them destroyed by Ian

Childhood sweethearts Laurel and Ian Avery-Dewitt devoted years to saving up so they could leave Wisconsin and get their Florida dream home, a little bright yellow house with Caribbean blue doors that quickly earned the nickname "Casa Banana." Then Hurricane Ian came, and blew their roof off "like a zipper."

The Category 4 storm devastated their Port Charlotte home as it lashed southwest Florida. Videos show streets and neighborhoods overtaken by several feet of ocean and buildings gutted from the powerful winds.

The Avery-Dewitts had spent 50 years in the Midwest before moving to the area in 2012. They set up a "little oasis" in their backyard, which they shared with their son Max, corgis and Maine Coon cats. Now, all of that is in shambles.

Ian and Max saw the house first. When they were driving to it, they were hoping it would be OK because the street didn't seem to be too bad.

"Then we got to the point of, 'Oh, wait a minute. Where's our house?' and 'Whose house is that?' ... And then it hit me that, oh, that's ours," Ian told CBS News. "It's just a lot smaller than it used to be. ... The front large window had lost the top two shutters and we could see inside. You could see the blue sky through the shutters where the kitchen and the dining room were."

Laurel and Ian Avery-Dewitt's home in Port Charlotte, Florida, after it was hit by Hurricane Ian.  / Credit: Laurel and Ian Avery-Dewitt
Laurel and Ian Avery-Dewitt's home in Port Charlotte, Florida, after it was hit by Hurricane Ian. / Credit: Laurel and Ian Avery-Dewitt

Laurel didn't go there until later. When she saw their dream home, all she could do was cry.

"To go home the other day was heartbreaking. I can't even put into words what it feels like to see your life spread across your yard, and the interior of your house, to look up and see that you have a blue sky and nothing else," Laurel told CBS news over the weekend. "...It's all gone."

The family evacuated the home prior to the storm, but their neighbor saw what happened.

"The people behind us said half of our roof landed in their backyard. They said it came off like a zipper ... like you're ripping a box top off," Laurel said.

Just two items of note remained intact amid the debris — a sugar bowl that has been in her family since 1835 and a sign that was hung outside their home that reads "It's just another day in paradise." That sign was the first thing they had put on their house when they moved in.

She said the damage was a "worst-case scenario." And it happened during a lapse in their home insurance. She said their insurance company canceled their policy last year without warning. They had just finally acquired and paid for new coverage, but it doesn't kick in until October 21.

Both Laurel and her husband are in their late 50s. They had managed to be debt-free on their home, but she said they are still working and don't have nearly enough savings to cover the cost of rebuilding, especially after the pandemic. Laurel's sister has started a GoFundMe to help them in their recovery efforts.

"You hear about things like this and you never think it's going to happen to you. Never," she said. "It shatters your world."

"I'm kind of starting from zero"

A few hours away, in Key West, Tyler Martin is facing a similar fate — only his home was also his sailboat, which he had been working on revamping for more than five years with every spare minute of time and every spare cent. He was just six weeks away from a long-awaited sail to Bocas del Toro, Panama — a place where, he noted, there are no hurricanes.

Tyler Martin is a longtime sailboat captain in Key West whose home, a sailboat, was destroyed by Hurricane Ian.  / Credit: Tyler Martin
Tyler Martin is a longtime sailboat captain in Key West whose home, a sailboat, was destroyed by Hurricane Ian. / Credit: Tyler Martin

Martin, who runs Bluesail Vacation Yachts and Sailing Academy with his close friend Scott Mayer, was holed up at a marina when Hurricane Ian unleashed its storm surge on the Keys. His sailboat was out of the water on boat stands when the surge picked up.

"Throughout the night, it just got more and more stressful," Mayer told CBS News. "...I think it was 2 or 3 in the morning, and you could see it in his face and his eyes he knew that his boat was not going to make it."

"I knew my boat was going to die ... and there was nothing I could do about it," Martin said, noting that the storm's surge coincided with king tides, making water levels "the highest of the year."

"No matter how many times I tried to put the boat stands back and tighten them, the waves were just coming and just knocking them down. And it got to point where it was just too dangerous to be there and I had to just back up and I just accepted the inevitable that the sea was gonna take it."

When he went to go see his boat in the morning — the one in which he'd invested years of blood, sweat and all his savings — the mast was broken and the bulkheads were crushed. It was "cracked and crunched," laying on its side on the rocks.

"My entire life was kind of aimed in that direction of completing the boat. I had big plans and dreams and all of a sudden it's like, that's not going to happen anymore," he said.

For Martin, it was a devasting blow. He's been living on sailboats since 2008 and in Key West since 2015. He doesn't own many personal items, but the ones he did have — photographs, letters and little mementos — are all soaked in diesel fuel. He's now homeless, with a "bag full of clothes and that's pretty much it."

"I'm kind of starting from zero," he said, in a calm and collected voice, "but I have my life. I have my friends and my health. I still have a bright future ahead."

Mayer started a GoFundMe for Martin, who he tearfully described as "the kind of guy that even it impacts him negatively, if he can help you, he'll take the shirt off his own back" without asking for anything in return.

Despite everything, Martin says he's inspired for the new chapter in his life, and grateful for the community that has worked so hard to house and help him after the storm.

"There's hundreds of people in the state of Florida that have lost everything, but have nobody there to catch them. Nobody there to give them a roof over their head. And so I consider myself really fortunate."

He still plans to get to Panama, eventually, and his love for the ocean has not even remotely wavered.

"It's like therapy, it's like medicine to be on the water," he said. "...You're gonna encounter storms, you're gonna encounter rough weather...but if you can overcome those, you get through it, you feel accomplished, you learn a lot about yourself and the world and the people around you."

All he can do is sail forward — the same plan that is in store for the Avery-Dewitts.

"We don't plan to leave. We're gonna rebuild," Laurel said. "...'Casa Banana' will live again. And the tiki garden will live again and we'll have Jimmy Buffett playing and all."

Read more: How to help victims of Hurricane Ian

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