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Resorts recover after feeling effects of hurricane

By Staff | Sep 27, 2017

Sergio Munoz, Elmener Virgile and Carlos Pena readying the front drive area of Sundial Beach Resort & Spa. DONNA BROWN

As soon as the Sanibel Causeway bridge was cleared, two Sanibel resorts had crews assessing the damage at their properties with cleanup starting immediately.

“Regardless if we didn’t know what would happen to the structures, I knew the community would still be here. Even if the water and hurricane would have taken every building, structure and every business, the community would still be here. That was one thing pulling off the island, we knew it would still be Sanibel regardless,” Sanibel Moorings General Manager Kari Cordisco said.

As the general manager she was forced to make decisions, some hard, before the hurricane impacted Southwest Florida.

The Wednesday leading up to the storm, Cordisco sat down and wrote a letter to share with her guests communicating the importance of evacuating the property.

“It was urging them to try and seek other plans because I didn’t want them to get caught in the massive evacuation. I didn’t want them to leave, but I also didn’t want them to get stuck and not have gas,” she said. “The night before, Tuesday night, I sent my children and mother to Tennessee. I felt that if I’m sending my family away from this, how can I not tell my guests that I think it’s time to try and help you.”

Claude Gourzong and Tyler Lackey preparing the main pool deck at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa. DONNA BROWN

Cordisco hand delivered the letter to each guest, about 20, which resulted in them thanking her for sharing the information and helping them seek other plans.

“We are right here waiting for you to come through these doors and whatever you need we will take care of that,” she said. “It was like everyone was there waiting for me to say something, to make an official recommendation. When that happened it cleared out pretty quick.”

The next step in the pre-storm preparation was canceling reservations for Wednesday through Sunday night.

“Then every day after that we had to make the next day calls to say we are not going to be open because we don’t have power,” she said. “Everyone was so supportive. We worked with all the guests to try to reschedule them within the next year to come back and see us.”

Sundial Beach Resort & Spa Marketing Manager Donna Brown said as Hurricane Irma neared, most of their guests left on their own, especially once the evacuation notice was issued.

Herold Dexantus setting up the bat at Turtle’s Pool & Beach Bar. DONNA BROWN

“We were able to offer assistance in placing anyone not able to get home by providing other arrangements,” she said.

Cordisco said she kept in contact with five other general managers during and after Hurricane Irma, as well as relied on the bigger network, Condominium Association of Sanibel Inc.

“We have a double network being in the hotel and resort business, and also condos. We all rely very heavily on each other to ask questions and we trade applications if we have great applicants. We look after each other’s properties, driving through, just making sure no one needs anything emergent at that moment,” Cordisco said. “We all worked very closely before, during and after (Hurricane Irma). We are still in touch because we are going to be in recovery mode for many weeks.”

Cordisco was the seventh in line to come back onto Sanibel Monday, Sept. 11, at 3 p.m. when the bridge opened.

“We didn’t know what to anticipate. We heard rumors that based on our city manager’s reports, Sanibel was spared and we all watched the news . . . it was far better than we anticipated. We didn’t think we would have anything to come back to. Being that we are the only certified botanical garden on Sanibel we have more to lose as far as vegetation,” she said.

Although Sanibel Moorings lost a lot of vegetation, their structure had no damage. PHOTO PROVIDED

When they pulled into Sanibel Moorings they saw the amount of vegetation lost. Approximately 35 large trees, about 60 small trees and shrubs and lots of flowers that were toppled when trees fell were lost. A plan is already in place to replace what was lost.

“We thought based on what we heard about the wind speeds, we would have far less than Charley. We believe that there is probably more lost this time than with Charley. It’s hard to compare apples to apples with monetary amounts, but we believe the degree of damage and loss will be heavier on our vegetation this year, regardless of money, but in number of quantity,” Cordisco said.

They immediately started checking out the structures to make sure there was no damage.

“The structures were all sound even where the trees fell very close. We were very lucky. Not even a window was broken. I had one screen that was ripped, that was it. We were so fortunate,” Cordisco said.

After documenting the downed trees with pictures, and roaming the entire property to check on the structures over the next couple of hours, she checked on her neighbor’s property and other businesses as well.

It was all hands on deck after Hurricane Irma passed by the Sanibel Moorings team. PHOTO PROVIDED

“We knew we had our work cut out for us,” Cordisco said. “It was like a war zone on this property. There was debris everywhere. There were some buildings that we had to crawl over the vegetation to even look at the exteriors. We couldn’t get into some of the openings of the buildings because of the trees.”

A team was assembled. Eleven of Cordisco’s staff showed up the first day, Monday, Sept. 11 to start clearing the property.

“Every single person, whether they were in the office, or maintenance, we were all on debris cleanup,” Cordisco said. “It was a really fun, noisy ballet going on out there.”

A subcontractor showed up on the property with a crew to help them get into some of the buildings and then another subcontractor sent a huge crew.

“All you could hear were blowers and chainsaws,” she said. “By the first day we had it cleaned up enough where we could gain access into all of the buildings. By the second day we had three contractor crews and more than a dozen staff members. There were between 40 to 60 people on the property cleaning up and that went on for four days. That was all day Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and all day Friday.”

Cordisco said they had loads of debris hauled off the island to open up their parking lots.

Prior to the evacuation, a couple of days before panic struck, Cordisco paid a visit to the store and stocked up on loaves of bread, peanut butter and jelly, Nutella and cases of water.

“The first day we had a production line of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for several dozens of people and we had chips and water,” she said.

In addition Bailey’s made lunch for all of the subcontracts every single day.

“We all ate together. There was a bonding experience that happened,” she said.

Brown said they also had team members return to the property as soon as the bridge was cleared and worked throughout the week. She said the crew spent time doing landscape cleanup, tennis and pickleball court maintenance, setting cabanas up, cleaning up the pool deck and outside areas, as well as restocking supplies and checking units.

“Our Sundial team’s valiant pre-Irma efforts helped to make sure the resort was as ready for the storm as we could be,” Brown said. “Fortunately we sustained no damage to the buildings and were able to quickly clean up what Irma left behind. Our staff worked throughout the week and we’re very thankful that the resort was able to quickly reopen. We’re looking forward to scheduled events, such as this weekend’s USTA SW Florida Clay Court Championship and next month’s Pickleball Classic, and our courts are in great shape.”

As soon as the power came on Friday, Cordisco said they took in their first guest. The power came on at 11 a.m., she said and they had someone check in at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15. More people checked in on Saturday and Sunday.

“A lot of the locals took refuge here. We had several people without power and they needed a place, so they came. We had a lot of contractor friends and vendors that had staff that really needed air conditioning, so we worked with them to provide housing as much as possible. So, we became somewhat of a refuge,” she said. “We had a lot of staff staying here.”

Last Wednesday more than 10 guests had checked into Sanibel Moorings.

Brown said they opened the resort on Friday, Sept. 22, and immediately received guests check-ins, as well as diners.

“We were happy to be able to help those still without power by providing hot meals and air-conditioned rooms,” she said.

Brown said with the resort being fully operational they are accepting reservations immediately for anyone needing shelter in Southwest Florida, including first responders, power crews and families without electricity.

“Several great rates are available to vacationers and staycationers, including our Stay & Dine rate which includes a third night free plus a $70 dining credit at Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar,” Brown said.

The people coming together, Cordisco said has been the fun part about the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Through it all, she looked for the silver lining in it all, which included coming back stronger, more beautiful and with a new fresh look.

Brown said they are thankful for many of their past guests reaching out to them throughout the storm.

“Many of our past guests reached out to us, expressing their concern for the resort and our beautiful island, both before and after the hurricane,” she said. “Many have Sundial family traditions that go back for generations. We’re thankful for their well wishes and look forward to being their piece of paradise for years to come.”