Childhood sweethearts Laurel and Ian Avery-DeWitt spent years saving up to leave Wisconsin for their dream home in Florida, a small bright yellow house with Caribbean blue doors that quickly earned the nickname “The Banana House.” Then Hurricane Jan came, and blew off their roof “like lightning”.

The Category 4 storm devastated their home in Port Charlotte when it hit southwest Florida. Videos show streets and neighborhoods engulfed by several feet of ocean and buildings destroyed by high winds.

Couple’s Florida Dream Home ‘Casa Banana’ Destroyed by Hurricane Ian


The Avery-Dewitts spent 50 years in the Midwest before moving there in 2012. They created a “little oasis” in their backyard, which they shared with their son Max, their corgi and Maine Coon cats. Now it is all in ruins.

Jan and Max were the first to see the house. As they drove towards it, they hoped that everything would be fine because the street didn’t seem to be that bad.

“Then we got to the point where, ‘Oh, wait. Where is our house? and “Whose house is this?” … And then I realized, oh, this is ours,” Yang told CBS News. “It’s just a lot smaller than it used to be. . . . The big front window didn’t have two top shutters and we could see in. You could see the blue sky through the shutters where the kitchen and dining room were.”

Laurel and Ian Avery-Davitt’s home in Port Charlotte, Florida, after Hurricane Ian hit.

Laurel and Ian Avery-DeWitt

Laurel went there only later. When she saw their dream home, all she could do was cry.

“Coming home the other day was heartbreaking. I can’t even put into words what it feels like to see your life spread out across your yard and inside your house and look up and see blue skies and nothing else,” Laurel told CBS News over the weekend. – …Everything is gone.

The family evacuated the house before the storm, but their neighbor saw what happened.

“The people behind us said half of our roof landed in their yard. They said it came off like lightning… like you’re ripping the top off a box,” Laurel said.

Among the wreckage, only two items of note were left intact – a sugar bowl that had been in her family since 1835, and a sign that had been posted outside the house that read “It’s Another Day in Paradise.” This sign was the first thing they hung on their house when they moved in.

She said the damage was a “worst case scenario”. And it happened during a breach of insurance on their home. She said their insurance company canceled their policy last year without warning. They just finally purchased and paid for the new coverage, but it doesn’t kick in until October 21st.

Both Laurel and her husband are in their 50s. They managed to get out of debt on their home, but she said they still work and don’t have enough savings to cover the costs of rebuilding, especially after the pandemic. Laurel’s sister set up a GoFundMe to help them in their recovery.

“You hear about things like this and you never think it’s going to happen to you. Never,” she said. “It destroys your world.”

“It’s like I’m starting from scratch”

A few hours away, in Key West, a similar fate awaited Tyler Martin – only his house was also his sailboat, which he spent more than five years renovating with every spare minute of his time and every penny. He was just six weeks away from his long-awaited departure for Bocas del Toro, Panama, a place he noted is hurricane-free.

Tyler Martin is a longtime sailboat captain in Key West whose sailboat home was destroyed by Hurricane Ian.

Tyler Martin

Martin, who runs Bluesail Vacation Yachts and Sailing Academy with his close friend Scott Meyer, took shelter in the marina as Hurricane Ian unleashed a storm surge on the Keys. His sailboat was resting on the boat racks when the surge increased.

“It got more and more intense as the night went on,” Mayer told CBS News. “…I think it was 2 or 3 in the morning and you could see it in his face and in his eyes, he knew his boat wasn’t going to make it.”

“I knew my boat was going to go down … and there was nothing I could do about it,” Martin said, noting that the storm surge coincided with king tides, making water levels “the highest of the year.”

“No matter how many times I tried to put the boat stands back and tighten them, the waves would just come in and just knock them over. And it got to the point where it was too dangerous to be there, and I just had to step back and just accept the inevitable that the sea would take it.”

When he went to look at his boat that morning—the one he had put years of blood, sweat, and all his savings into—the mast was broken and the bulkheads crushed. It “cracked and crunched”, lying on its side on the rocks.

“My whole life has been focused on building a boat. I had big plans and dreams, and suddenly it seems to me that this will not happen again,” he said.

It was a crushing blow for Martin. He has lived on sailboats since 2008 and in Key West since 2015. He doesn’t have many personal belongings, but what he does have—photos, letters, and small souvenirs—are all soaked in diesel fuel. He is now homeless, with “a bag full of clothes and that’s about it.”

“I’m starting from scratch,” he said in a calm and collected voice, “but I have a life of my own. I have friends and health. I still have a bright future ahead of me.”

Mayer set up a GoFundMe for Martin, whom he tearfully described as “the type of guy who, even if it’s affecting him negatively, if he can help you, he’ll take the shirt off his back” without asking for anything in return.

Regardless, Martin says he’s inspired to start a new chapter in his life and is grateful to the community that worked so hard to give him a home and help after the storm.

“There are hundreds of people in the state of Florida who have lost everything, but there is no one to catch them. There is no one to give them a roof over their heads. That’s why I consider myself really lucky.”

He still plans to eventually make it to Panama, and his love of the ocean hasn’t even remotely wavered.

“It’s like therapy, it’s like medicine – being on the water,” he said. “…You’ll face storms, you’ll face rough weather…but if you can get through them, you get through it, you feel accomplished, you learn a lot about yourself, the world, and the people around you.”

All he can do is float forward – the same plan as Avery-Dewitts.

“We have no plans to go away. We’re going to rebuild,” Laurel said. “…Casa Banana will come back to life. And the tiki garden will come back to life, and we’ll have Jimmy Buffett playing and all that.”