The roads that weren't flooded were lined with disemboweled homes, some stripped of their roofs, and littered with once-proud palm trees torn up by the roots that, in many cases, were snapped like matchsticks.
Many downtown stores were boarded up, while others were reduced to splinters. And at the few gas stations that had reopened, long lines of motorists waited to fill up.
"Our boat is done," said Addie Maynard, 23, who until Ian intruded Wednesday had been living on a 34-foot yacht with her boyfriend at the Old Bridge Marina in North Fort Myers. "Our marina got wiped out."
Now, they're staying in a damaged high-rise condominium building near the Caloosahatchee River.
But, Maynard said, at least their boat wasn't among those the storm surge evicted from marinas and deposited in the street.
“Our boat actually made it through the storm, but the inside is soaking wet," Maynard said. "Out of 60 boats, only three made it.”
Ian, wielding 150 mph winds, first made landfall Wednesday 20 miles west of Fort Myers on Cayo Costa and quickly swamped this city of 87,000, a longtime destination for sun-loving tourists where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford built majestic winter estates.
But despite the epic destruction, rattled residents said they were counting their blessings — and rallying around their town.
"I feel like beautiful things will come out of this, like togetherness," said Amanda Bodiot, 35. "People have literally lost their whole homes. We have the opportunity to come around them and support them."
Bodiot said neighbors are already aiding one another and not waiting for help to come from outside.
"People are so self-reliant that when, all of a sudden, we get the opportunity to hold each other up, I think that is really special," she said.
Cebi Stough, 30, expects it could be a while before Fort Myers returns to what it was.
"I'm just wondering how you clean up," Stough said. "Everywhere is pretty destroyed, and the beach is really sad."
Stough was referring to nearby Fort Myers Beach, where the main drag, Estero Boulevard, was coated with a thick layer of sand and many of the souvenir stores were wrecked.
Still, it could have been a lot worse, Stough said.
"I grew up here, but this is the worst hurricane that I've experienced," she said.
Mayor Kevin Anderson said much the same earlier in an interview on NBC's "TODAY."
"I came here in the mid-’70s," Anderson said. "I was in the police department for almost 25 years, saw a lot of storms here. This is by far the worst storm I have ever witnessed.
"In the heart of downtown, watching that water rise and just flood out all the stores on the first floor, it was heartbreaking."
At a park near downtown, crews were already reducing fallen trees to mulch and dealing with downed wires while a group of boys played soccer.
"It’s a little relief to get the kids outside," said Sergio Francisco, 33, a lifelong Fort Myers resident who took his four nephews to the Terry Park Sports Complex.
Francisco said he was grateful that his family made it through the storm intact and still had running water, food and electricity. He was also grateful to have somewhere to go with the boys.
"We saw how the storm affected us," he said. "We’re just here getting their minds off of things."
Deon J. Hampton reported from Fort Myers and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.