Former TDN, Piqua Daily Call writer covers Hurricane Ian


NAPLES, Florida — Piqua native, and former Troy Daily News/Piqua Daily Call writer, Harriet Heithaus now lives in Naples, Florida, where she works as an arts and entertainment columnist for the Naples Daily News. Heithaus was in Naples last week as Hurricane Ian made landfall, assisting local residents while also covering news stories related to the Category 4 storm.

“I think it actually came ashore north of Sanibel on Wednesday, (Sept. 28) around noon,” Heithaus said. “The water kept rising for at least three or four hours where we were. The water kept rising, and there was nothing you could do but just get away.”

Heithaus’s home was spared from major damage during the storm, but other houses nearby were completely destroyed. During the storm, she was forced to do double-duty, covering events for the Naples Daily News while also assisting her friends and neighbors at the same time.

“We were trying to get through the water, to rescue a friend who was on her roof,” Heithaus said. “It got up to 4-feet in her house.”

“We have a kind of a text-chain going, finding out how everyone is,” she said. “She was on it and started asking for help. I was the closest so another reporter, Kate Cimini, and I decided to try and get close enough to her house and throw a rope to them, so they could be towed to our SUV.”

“We couldn’t even get across the nearest cross street,” Heithaus said. “The water was coming up to the doors of her car.”

After the waters receded, they were able to use a neighbor’s ladder to climb off of the roof. “They were standing in knee-deep water until a boat came and rescued everyone,” Heithaus said. “The county sent out emergency rescue operations boat.”

Heithaus has lived in Naples for 22 years, and has been through three other hurricanes there. “This is my fourth,” she said. “It’s far and away the worst.”

Heithaus said she never lost her electric power or internet connection during the storm, although others around her did.

“I was lucky,” she said. “Some people just got their power back today, and it went out last Wednesday. Our cable TV service was out until yesterday; the only place you could get information was from your phone and the newspaper.”

One local TV channel, WINK News based in Fort Myers, went off the air due to flooding in their studio. “They’re back on,” Heithaus said. “The newspaper is printed in Fort Lauderdale, so it was not affected. It was getting it to the houses that was a problem; they said they did deliver about 70% of the papers, which is amazing to me.”

The storm and the surge waters are gone now, but Heithaus estimates the damage from Hurricane Ian will take years to repair.

“It has receded,” she said. “It’s gone, but the mud and tree limbs; the wreckage is everywhere.”

“We have boats on our streets,” she said. “We have strange things, from picture frames to small household items, and we have big piles of furniture in front of many houses.”

Relief organizations including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been active in the area since the storm hit, Heithaus said, and donations of food, clothing and other supplies have been very much appreciated by local residents.

“They’re all gratefully accepted, I can tell you right now,” she said.

“The worst thing I’m seeing is lack of housing,” she added. “People were forced from their homes, and they can’t go back in because it’s all mildew and mold now. They’ve got to tear all that out, and then try to get a contractor.”

“People have no housing,” she said. “Trailers, and things like that would really be helpful.”

Rebuilding will probably take years, Heithaus said.

“I lost a good part of my roof in the last hurricane, Erma, and it took two years,” she said, “and I was one of the lucky ones. There’s so much to be done.”

Ordinarily, Heithaus works as an arts and entertainment columnist for the Naples Daily News, but since Hurricane Ian she has been covering the storm almost exclusively.

“I haven’t done an arts story all week,” she said. “I finally did one yesterday, about the theatres; they have to re-open the plays, the botanical garden and the museum, it all shut down.”

A Piqua native, Heithaus wrote for both the Troy Daily News and the Piqua Daily Call before moving to Florida. “I have worked for both,” she said. “I was at the Troy Daily News for 15 years after I graduated from college.”

“The Piqua Daily Call offered student internships,” she said. “We had a mentor, the editor at that time Jack Murray, and we learned from all of the people who worked there.”

“It was wonderful learning,” she said. “I was one of their student editors for a weekly high school publication, it was called the Cavalier Courier.”

Heithaus has seen several hurricanes since moving to Florida, but she said storms like Ian are still rare.

“We actually get more that pass us by than actually hit us, like this one did,” she said. “Once every three or four years, something will come close but not hit us like this one did.”

“I feel that the hurricanes are getting stronger, and more destructive,” Heithaus said. “That says something to me.”

Fall is also hurricane season in the Naples area. “When the ocean warms up, it can feed those winds that cause hurricanes,” Heithaus said. “The ocean really gets warm around August and September, and those are prime hurricane months.”

“We actually had one on Oct. 24, about 10 years back,” she said. “Thanksgiving is the day when we truly give thanks, because hurricane season is definitely over.”

Clevenger is a regular contributor to Miami Valley Today.

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