(WSVN) - A new hurricane season began Thursday, but many Floridians still haven’t recovered from the last one. Rebuilding along the Southwest Florida coast devastated by Hurricane Ian is taking much longer than many imagined. Kevin Ozebek returned to Fort Myers Beach to find out why in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

With calm Gulf waters and pristine sand, this view of Fort Myers Beach looks like paradise.

But take a few steps down the shoreline.

The iconic pier is destroyed, surf shops are gutted, and homes are barely standing.

Hurricane Ian slammed the Gulf Coast in September of last year, but in some spots, it looks like the storm just hit.

Monica Schmucker, Fort Myers Beach resident: “So everything got blown through. You can see, on the other end, there’s no wall.”

For nine months, Monica Schmucker has been wanting to rebuild her home. But there has been a huge, unexpected hurdle.

Kevin Ozebek: “What did you expect to get from your wind insurance?”

Monica Schmucker: “I expected them to be fair.”

Monica is an insurance attorney. She knows her policies inside and out.

So when her home insurer initially offered her only $500 for wind damage, she was shocked.

Monica Schmucker: “The estimate that I looked at, I was like, ‘Are you sure you guys went to the right house?’ I was confused, because I was expecting something that was reasonable, and $500 was like a slap in the face.”

The storm surge pushed many homes off their foundations, so the cleanup here was never going to be easy.

But Monica is far from alone. Many homeowners say they are now in a battle with their insurance company.

Jim Atterhold, Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor: “I think it’s systemic. I think some of it is criminal. Some of these companies have a policy of just denial, and that’s illegal, and that’s wrong, and they need to be prosecuted.”

Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Jim Atterhold gave us a tour of the destroyed town hall.

Jim Atterhold: “So, obviously, the walls were completely blown out by the water.”

He says even the town is fighting for a fair insurance payout.

Up and down the beach, piles of debris sit and homes continue to crumble, as people wait for insurance money.

In the aftermath of this one storm, Florida’s Department of Financial Services has received 677 complaints of insurance fraud and has launched more than 30 investigations into insurance companies.

Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer: “We go in with a fine-toothed comb, and we look at how they’re conducting themselves, how they’re holding business and how they’re handing the needs of their policy holders.”

With so many here still homeless or out of a job, basic necessities can still be tough to get nine months after the storm.

Kevin Ozebek: “Is food a big need still?

Shawn Critser, Beach Baptist Church: “Oh, absolutely. So the shelves you’re seeing right now, we’ll rotate every two days, so we see 1,200 families a month still.”

Shawn Crister is the pastor at Beach Baptist Church. His sanctuary was destroyed.

The blown-out first floor is now used to store food, cleaning supplies and tools to rebuild.

Everything here is free for Hurricane Ian survivors, some who are still homeless.

Shawn Crister: “This is what it looks like. This is families in need. This is people living in tents. This is people living without water and electric still.”

Despite the hardships, there is resiliency here.

Everyone we met believes better days are ahead, and that includes Monica.

Monica Schmucker: “I do feel a little defeated, but I’m pushing on.”

She’s not backing down, as she takes on her insurance company.

One way or another, Monica says, her home will be rebuilt.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.


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