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Couple settles in here after rescue from Hurricane Ian

James and Lorene Capek inside their new home at the Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Village. [AMY B. MCCRAW/Hendersonville Lightning] James and Lorene Capek inside their new home at the Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Village. [AMY B. MCCRAW/Hendersonville Lightning]

Change is never easy.

But being forced to pick yourself up and begin a new life at the age of 91 seems especially cruel.
“It’s not fun when you get old and they want you to start over,” James Capek said as he scrolled through the digital images of some of the things he and his wife, Lorene, lost to hurricane Ian. “You don’t handle stuff like this when you’re older like you do when you’re young.”
The Capeks, who are both 91, lost pretty much everything when the powerful hurricane hit their Fort Myers, Fla., home in September. Ian whacked Southwest Florida with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, just shy of a Category 5 storm. And Fort Myers saw a record-high 7¼-foot storm surge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Wind from the storm damaged the outside of the Capeks’ double-wide mobile home and waist-deep seawater poured in before Ian moved on to cause more damage across the state and in the Carolinas.
The Capeks stayed put during the storm and spent a few rough nights on their own in their flooded home before local sheriff’s deputies rescued them.
After a few more difficult days in a shelter, their daughter, who lives in Transylvania County, found them a spot at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Village in Hendersonville.
They said their move to Hendersonville from their now destroyed home they loved in Florida is bittersweet.
“We like it here,” Lorene said. “It’d be nice to have a car, but it got flooded too. We kind of want to be more near our daughter. Some people have it much worse than us.”

High school sweethearts


James and Lorene Capek met in high school in Indiana and were married by the time they were 19. Not long after their marriage, James was drafted and served with the U.S. Marines in Korea from 1952 to 1954.
When he returned from military service, James and Lorene bought a farm in Indiana and raised a family. The couple also enjoyed occasional visits to Florida.
By 1984, they had bought the double-wide in a mobile home park in Fort Myers and officially changed their residency to the Sunshine State.
The Capeks were the youngest couple in the park and a few years short of the park’s policy that required residents to be at least 55 years old.
“They broke the rules to let us in,” James said with a laugh.
The couple made friends around the community. James fell in love with fishing and he and a neighbor went every chance they got.
“I just loved the fishing,” he said “After that, I always liked plants. I had orchids in the basement. Hopefully, my friends will gather them and enjoy them.”
Over the years, they dodged a few hurricanes.
One caused some damage that insurance covered. Another time, the Capeks evacuated thinking a big storm might hit their area. But when they returned, the power was on and the streets were dry. The storm had missed their community.
They could no longer afford insurance by the time Ian came along and if they had coverage, it would have paid only $45,000, James said.
The Capeks decided to take their chances and not evacuate when they learned Ian might be headed their way.
As the storm moved in, James captured images on his iPad.
Among the shots of his beloved orchids, James took photographs of part of his neighbor’s roof on the ground, a blown over mango tree and damage to the outside of his home. A couple of photographs show seawater flooding into his home’s lanai with furniture and other household items floating around.
James set to work saving what he could as their home began to flood.
“I was starting to put things higher because I didn’t know how high it would come,” he said.
The water eventually rose waist-deep inside the home and at one point, James said, it felt like the double-wide had turned into a boat.
Once the storm passed and the water receded, the Capeks took stock. They had no electricity and the plumbing no longer worked.
Their furniture and everything else James could not store high up was ruined. Their car had floated away and even his hearing aid was lost.
“You don’t realize how much you’ve lost until you lost it,” James said.
When he crawled under the home to determine why they had no running water, James saw what caused him to feel like he was on a boat during the storm. The double-wide had floated an inch and a half from its foundation during the storm.


At the end of their endurance


The two survived as best they could in the flooded home until the sheriff’s deputies arrived two or three days later.
“My daughter was worried about us. So, they sent a sheriff after us and they put us in a shelter,” James said. “He said, ‘Your kids want you to go there.’”
The authorities had a wheelchair lift for Lorene and were all helpful and nice. And by that time, the two were ready to go.
“I didn’t feel endangered at any time. But it was more than the old man could handle,” James said. “You’re just about at the end of your endurance.”
Their daughter, Vickie Seliga, traveled from her home in Brevard and picked them up from the shelter a few days later. She got them settled in at Lake Pointe.
Their daughter is also helping them deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Veterans Administration. A new hearing aid for James is due to arrive from the VA any day now.
The Capeks also shopped with their daughter for a few immediate items they needed to begin again in Hendersonville.
They have a bed, a couch and a lounge chair, a dining room table and chairs, a television on a small stand and James recently put together a new computer stand. The two said they also have all the clothes they need.
“It’s a little empty. But we’ll fill it,” Lorene said as she looked around at walls bereft of family photos.
Their granddaughter is sorting through their belongings from the home in Florida to see what might be salvaged.
The Capeks said they hope some photographs that hung on the walls might have survived. But James said he expected the pictures from his time in Korea probably did not.
“It’s just so many things,” he said.
James said he they will likely know in a few weeks what made it through the storm and what did not.
“It’ll be like Christmas,” he said.
In the meantime, the two are getting familiar with their new home and trying to keep perspective. They enjoy the people in Hendersonville and were thrilled to see the fall foliage.
The fact that they now live near their daughter, granddaughter and great-grandchildren is also a plus, they said.
“I think we’re gonna stay right here,” Lorene said. “We’re dry here, so far. Someday we’ll laugh, if we live long enough.”