Bailey Spotz, 17, just wants to go back to school.
The high school grad hasn’t slept in her own bed since Sept. 26, the day before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Lee County. The hurricane made her family’s home in Cape Coral temporarily uninhabitable.
Since then, she’s slept on the hard concrete floors of three shelters and finally a hotel bed over the course of a week.
The Fort Myers hotel where she is currently staying with her parents still has no internet access and had no water until four days into her stay.
This week she found out that the remainder of her semester at Florida SouthWestern State College, where she is dual enrolled, will end in virtual classes. She no longer attends classes at her high school.
“I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown,” Spotz said. “I fill my day. I have school and then I work a lot and I do voluntary work and there is nothing right now. I do not know what to do. I feel like I’m fading away.”
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A return to virtual learning
FSW announced this week that the remainder of the fall semester will be virtual at its Lee campus. Classes resumed on Wednesday 12 October.
With no internet access at her hotel and unable to return home, Spotz tries to figure out how to take virtual classes and complete her chores every day.
For Spotz, switching back to online learning feels like stepping back into her freshman and sophomore years of high school, which were mostly virtual due to COVID-19.
“I hated COVID. I couldn’t stand COVID,” Spotz said. “I don’t like online classes. I do not want that. I’m really upset about this. I want to go back. I love the campus.”
When she’s not at school, Spotz works at Valerie’s House, a nonprofit organization that provides grief support to children and families. She leads children’s groups and occasionally helps out with the youth groups.
She also works in childcare at her church every weekend and babysits.
In her limited free time, she enjoys reading, sewing, shopping for unique clothing items, drawing, painting and cooking, especially pasta.
Spotz is also in the process of applying to college and deciding which college to attend. Her plan at the moment is to pursue a degree in education.
Not her first tragedy
In 2018 Chris, Spotz’s eldest brother, passed away. After his death, the family moved to Cape Coral in July of that year.
“The kids needed a change,” said their mother, Jade Spotz. “We’re from a small town and we’ve been thinking about it. This house was a good opportunity so we thought now would be a good time to make the switch.”
Then, in 2020, as wildfires raged through Colorado, her family’s home in the mountains went missing.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spotz has two older brothers who no longer live at home.
Despite Hurricane Ian, Spotz said she loves her home here in Florida.
“I just love Cape Coral and I love the beaches and Fort Myers and all of that,” Spotz said. “I would go to the beach like every weekend. I love schools and everything. Ten out of ten.”
Ride out the storm
Originally, the Spotz’s didn’t want to evacuate. They planned to weather the storm at their home on Del Prado Boulevard near Cape Coral Hospital.
But her father works for the county and was asked to work at Tortuga Elementary School, which had been converted into a hurricane shelter. So the three packed their blankets, pillows, important documents, some novels to pass the time, and enough clothes and food for three days.
Three days’ supplies weren’t enough.
“We used to go to Walmart and buy PB&J ingredients and granola bars because they said it only takes three days to eat,” Spotz said. “So we took that really seriously.”
The school didn’t have a good generator because it wasn’t a primary emergency shelter site, according to Spotz. It was only opened because the other shelters had filled up. There was no electricity, no air conditioning, and no refrigeration for groceries.
The family hid in the elementary school for the first three days. Both of her parents volunteered and she sat alone in the dark in the volunteer room for most of the storm.
“It was a bit scary, there wasn’t power for a while,” Spotz said. “It was really boring. Unrelated to. No beds, no internet, no electricity, you can’t charge your phones.
Overall, Spotz said it was very isolating and depressing.
The news in the school library was on for the first few hours. But then the power went out… and with it the internet, cell phone reception and the news.
“We didn’t really get any news for the next maybe 12 hours,” Spotz said. “My dad was still getting text messages, so our family in Colorado texted us from there.”
As the hurricane’s eye began to sweep over the area, Spotz and her mother said they saw a number of people pour into the emergency shelter.
“Right after the storm, people showed up like we had no food and everything was flooded. Please give us something to eat,” Spotz said. “But there was no food. People were traumatized.”
While it’s scary going through a hurricane, Spotz said she feels very safe at the shelter.
After the storm passed, Spotz and her parents went back to their home to assess the damage.
“It took our breath away to see Del Prado, like there was so much damage to begin with,” Spotz said. “It looks like someone combed through everything and just scratched.”
Their house was in such a state that they could not live there until repairs were made.
“It was so heartbreaking,” Spotz said. “We had a really pretty backyard, I love the backyard, and it was just flattened out. There were sticks on the floor and our pool was just covered in clapboards and the lanai screen was tattered.”
The main damage was to the roof of their home, resulting in water damage and cracks throughout the ceiling. The ceiling hadn’t collapsed, but they’re still waiting for inspectors to check the attic to make sure mold hasn’t started to grow.
There was no electricity, no water, and since they were in the process of remodeling their kitchen before the storm hit, they had no way to store or cook food.
Luckily, flood water from the canal behind her house did not reach her house.
“The water came about a foot from our pool and would have entered our home,” Jade said.
There is damage to her pool, which was mysteriously drained after the storm. Her boat and boat dock were also damaged.
After three days, the Tortuga Elementary School shelter was closed. Her father was then transferred to the East Lee High School emergency shelter, where the family stayed for three more nights.
“It was kind of more intense and scary,” Spotz said. “It was very crowded, just a lot more traumatized people.”
But she said it was better than Tortuga Elementary because they had better food, according to Spotz, who spent the first three days eating buns and buns with butter. There was also electricity and the ability to charge your cell phone.
After the East Lee High School shelter closed, they went to Hertz Arena for two days.
“That was the most intense,” Spotz said. “There were only beds everywhere. There were people and animals everywhere.”
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By the time they exited the arena, people had claimed all the chairs and were making beds on the actual ice as all the aisles were full.
They decided to leave as Bailey is severely allergic to cats and the shelter was turned over to the Red Cross.
“We just thought we needed to get her out before we became an emergency,” mom Jade Spotz said.
While she felt terrible for a week in shelters because of the lack of sleep due to noise and hard concrete floors, Spotz said it was better than the alternative.
“It was better than being homeless and we could get food for free at the shelters,” Spotz said.
Look to the future
Day after day, the Spotz family returns to their home to do a little more cleaning.
They covered the house with a tarp to prevent rainwater from adding to the existing damage. You hope for the best.
The family eats when they can and then falls asleep exhausted at the end of the day. Then they wake up the next day and do it all over again.
“We just want to be home,” Spotz said.
Nikki Ross covers education for the Fort Myers News-Press and the Naples Daily News. She can be reached at NRoss@gannett.com, follow her on Twitter @nikkiinreallife, Instagram @reporternikkiinreallife or TikTok @nikki.inreallife.