With its seashell-filled white sand beaches, wildlife refuges, and gorgeous sunsets, Sanibel Island feels like a tropical escape—even though it’s only three miles off Florida’s southern Gulf Coast. Locals and tourists enjoy beautiful water views while biking, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, golfing, shelling, or simply relaxing on the 15 miles of beaches on the island.
But on September 28, 2022, life on the island changed forever, as Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm, devastating the area with 160 mph winds and 12 feet of surge flooding.
The storm impacted every one of the more than 6,000 residents of the island, including Sonny Michael, a delivery driver for Platinum Logistics, an Amazon Delivery Service Partner (DSP). Michael has been delivering Amazon packages to the island for over a year, and has lived on Sanibel Island for more than three years.
Michael, his mom, and their cat evacuated their apartment a day before Hurricane Ian hit. When they returned to Sanibel after staying with family in Ohio for a few weeks, the island was unrecognizable.
“It was absolutely incredible to see the amount of destruction that it had caused,” Michael said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Eight feet of storm surge came through their apartment building, washing away his mom’s car and destroying the ground-level storage unit where they kept items like antiques and family mementos. Fortunately, their second-floor apartment was not damaged.
“All of our sentimental valuables, we lost,” Michael said. “When we went upstairs, not a single window was cracked. Not a single screen was torn. Everything looked perfect.”
As rebuilding efforts began, Michael said it was important for him to return to work and help restore a sense of normalcy to the island by delivering Amazon packages.
“It’s a very high honor, the way I see it,” Michael said. “Having the chance to be a part of the community, and work in the community, and provide for the community is a great feeling to have. I feel extremely lucky and grateful to call Sanibel my home.”
The only way to get to Sanibel is through one of the causeway bridges that connect it and neighboring Captiva Island to the mainland. Amazon packages arrive to Sanibel seven days a week, year-round, via an Amazon delivery station in Fort Myers. Customer orders are picked and packed at a fulfillment center, sent to a sortation center in Fort Myers or Tampa, and then routed to the delivery station. At the delivery station, DSP drivers like Michael load the packages into vans and deliver them to customers.
Ahead of the Hurricane Ian, Amazon activated its Disaster Relief Hub in Atlanta, prepositioned supplies across Florida, and closed dozens of sites to keep employees and partners safe.
The hurricane damaged parts of the delivery station, but Amazon was able to reopen the site about a week later, said Keith Alger, senior station manager.
Amazon also opened a mobile resource center for employees, DSPs, and their families, and provided hot meals, showers, Wi-Fi, counseling services, housing assistance, and washers and dryers for laundry.
Alger said the resources Amazon provided were “a lifeline” to the families impacted, including his own. His family lost power for about two weeks, and Amazon helped them find temporary housing.
Amazon also donated $1 million to the Florida Disaster Fund to help communities impacted by the storm and donated more than one million relief items.
“It was an incredible thing to see and be a part of,” Alger said. “Going through such devastation, but being part of an organization that would be willing to help not only the employees [and DSPs], but also the community itself.”
Once the delivery station was up and running again, the next challenge was determining how to deliver to customers in the area. Access was a huge problem, especially to Sanibel, since the storm destroyed several parts of the Sanibel Causeway bridges.
Amazon set up delivery hubs, so DSP drivers could deliver to certain areas that were open and make packages available for customer pickup. As debris cleared and more roads reopened, drivers started delivering to customers’ homes again.
“We were absolutely part of the recovery effort here,” Alger said. “Once we opened up, you saw a lot of items coming out of the facility like chainsaws, generators, and vacuums, just so individuals could try to rebuild their lives and try to fix their homes.”
Several weeks later, repairs to the Sanibel Causeway bridges were complete, and Amazon DSPs resumed deliveries to the island.
“It was pretty amazing to be a lifeline to that area … and a lot of those deliveries included things to help them recover from the disaster,” Alger said.
Most Amazon orders from Sanibel after the hurricane were from residents and construction workers helping to rebuild the island. Power tools, fans, and even mailboxes were among Michael’s most-delivered items in late 2022 and early 2023.
“There are many times when I deliver to customers and they tell me, ‘Now I can finally finish building the front door to my home,’” Michael said.
Now, a year later, he’s seeing more items like fishing poles, beach carts, bicycle equipment, and outdoor gear, signaling a shift from recovering to resuming normal island activities again.
Slowly but surely, the island is rebuilding, but it’s far from what it looked like before Ian hit.
“It’s going to be a very long time until it’s back to where it was, unfortunately,” Michael said. “But fortunately, the people are keeping positive, keeping their heads up, and taking things one step at a time to restore the businesses, their homes, and everything else around.”
One of those businesses reopening soon is the Children’s Education Center of the Islands, a preschool on Sanibel. Sherry Fisher, a teacher at the school, said Amazon packages have helped them prepare for the upcoming school year.
“If we didn’t have people like Amazon that could come out and deliver these items to us, we wouldn’t be able to get half as far as we’ve gotten,” Fisher said. “Every single day we’re getting about 10-12 packages from Amazon that we’re using to reopen the school and stock the school with all the supplies that we need.”
And Michael is happy to deliver.
“Seeing the spirit of the community still so positive is always a great thing to see,” Michael said. “And delivering to a customer and seeing a smile on their face, it makes my day. It really does, you know.”
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As a thank you to Sanibel Island residents, Amazon donated $25,000 to Community Housing & Resources, which provides affordable housing so people can live and work on the island. Amazon also cleared the Amazon Wish List for The Children’s Education Center of the Islands to help them reopen with everything they needed.