FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — An army of 42,000 utility workers has restored power to more than 2.5 million businesses and homes in Florida since the impact of Hurricane Ian, and the place by Brenda Palmer is one of them. According to the government tally, she and her husband Ralph are part of a success story.

Yet turning on the lights in a wrecked mobile home that’s probably beyond repair and reeks of dried river mud and mold is little comfort to people who’ve lost a lifetime of work in a few hours of wind, of rain and rising sea water. Sorting through old, soggy photos of her children in the shaded ruins of her carport, Palmer couldn’t help but cry.

“Everyone says, ‘You can’t save everything, mom,'” she said. “You know, it’s my life. It’s my life. Let’s go.”

As the major search for victims is over and much of Florida’s southwest coast settles in for the long task of recovering from its first direct hit from a major hurricane in a century, residents prepare for what will be months, if not years, of work. Mourning lost legacies will be difficult; so will fights with insurance companies and decisions about what to do next.

Around the corner from the Palmers at Coach Light Manor, a retirement community of 179 mobile homes that was flooded by two streams and a canal, a sad realization struck Susan Colby between the first time she saw her sodden home after Ian and Sunday, when she was digging through her remains.

“I’m 86 and homeless,” she said. “It’s just crazy. I mean, never in my life did I dream that I wouldn’t have a home. But here we go.”

Officials blamed more than 100 deaths, most in southwest Florida, on Ian, a powerful Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph (249 km/h). It was the third deadliest storm to hit the continental United States this century behind Hurricane Katrina, which claimed an estimated 1,400 lives, and Hurricane Sandy, which killed 233 despite weakening. into a tropical storm just before making landfall.

While Governor Ron DeSantis has praised his administration for the early stages of recovery, including restoring running water and lights and building a temporary bridge to Pine Island, there is still much to do. There are still mountains of debris to clear; it’s hard to find a road that isn’t lined with waterlogged carpets, crumbling furniture, moldy mattresses, and pieces of houses.

On the road to Estero Island, the scene of the worst damage in Fort Myers Beach, workers use heavy machinery with huge grapples to rip debris from swampy areas and dump it into trucks. Boats of all sizes, from dinghies to huge shrimp boats to chartered fishing boats, block roads and sit atop buildings.

DeSantis said at least part of the roadmap for the coming months in Southwest Florida could come from the Florida Panhandle, where Category 5 Hurricane Michael wiped out Mexico Beach and much of Panama City in 2018. Panama City leaders will be brought in to offer advice on the cleanup, DeSantis said at a weekend news conference.

“They’re going to go down to the field, they’re going to inspect, and then they’re going to offer guidance to local officials here in Lee County, Fort Myers Beach and elsewhere,” DeSantis said. “You can do whatever you want, you don’t have to accept their advice. But I tell you it was a major, major effort.

In an area full of retirees, many of whom have moved south to get away from the cold northern winters, Luther Marth fears it may be more difficult for some to recover from the psychological effects of Ian than from the destruction physical. Two men in their 60s have already taken their own lives after seeing the destruction, officials said.

Fort Myers was battered by Hurricane Irma in 2017, but Marth said the storm had nothing to do with Ian and the emotional toll would be greater, especially for the elderly.

“I am 88 years old. People my age are struggling,” said Marth, who counts himself and his wife Jacqueline among the lucky ones despite losing a car and thousands of dollars worth of fishing gear, tools and more when their garage filled with more than 5 feet (1.52 meters) of water. .

“If you’ve been wiped out financially, you don’t want to start over, you don’t have the willpower to start over,” Marth said. “So these are the people my heart breaks for.”