It is the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that bring people to Fort Myers Beach – but on Wednesday afternoon, they unleashed the fury of Hurricane Ian.

A tsunami-like storm surge, 3m (10ft) high in places, washed away homes and businesses.

The seafront has been levelled – now littered with the remnants of the shops and restaurants that made it a bustling tourist resort.

Early reports of ‘substantial loss of life’ – Hurricane Ian updates

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Florida’s 500-year flood event

T-shirts and baseball caps from a souvenir store, pots and pans from a seafood cafe and glasses from a bar are partly obscured by brown sludge, a reminder of what once was.

A little further down the road, a staircase is all that remains of the orange house on the beachfront.

The story of its occupants is told by their neighbour, Ron Shepherd, who watched as the house was lifted from its foundations by a torrent of water.

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“I was on the balcony and could see it floating by,” he says. “There were three people and a dog inside and we were shouting to them to get out and grab hold of another house that they were passing that was unoccupied. They got out but they were washed away. One guy held onto a palm tree for two minutes but then he was gone, the water was moving so fast.”

Nobody who remained in Fort Myers Beach as Hurricane Ian made landfall expected it to be so vicious or to do such extensive damage.

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Widespread destruction in Florida

Wyatt and Brooke Jordan stayed in a building just back from the seafront with their four children.

“The water came up pretty fast,” Wyatt said. “I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like this. We went to bed on Tuesday night and thought it was heading for Tampa and then we woke up and it was coming for us.”

Read more from Sky News:
Dramatic before and after images show scale of destruction
Residents describe escaping the eye of the storm

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How climate change is fuelling hurricanes

So many people seem to have been surprised by the path this storm took – but also the vast area it covered and how slowly it moved.

It is this that will result in the highest cost for Florida, both in lives lost and the recovery.