Florida Islanders Dig After Ian’s Destruction
By STEPHEN SMITH
ST. JAMES CITY, Fla. — After Hurricane Ian’s destruction, many residents of an island in Florida stood for days without power or other resources while hoping for the lone bridge to the mainland to be repaired.
Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was largely cut off from the outside world after Ian severely damaged its causeway and made its towns accessible only by boat or plane.
“We believe as a community that if we leave the island – abandon it – no one is going to deal with this issue of repairing our road,” Pine Island resident Leslie Arias said as small boats motorboats delivered water and other necessities.
A week after the Category 4 storm hit Southwest Florida, the scale of its destruction is still front and center. Utility workers continued to push for power restoration on Wednesday and crews searched for anyone still trapped in flooded or damaged homes, while the storm-related death toll rose to at least 84 in recent days .
At least 75 people have been killed in Florida, five in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia since Ian made landfall on the Caribbean island on September 27, a day before he reached the coast from the Gulf of Florida. After tracking northeast into the Atlantic, the hurricane made landfall again in South Carolina before moving into the mid-Atlantic states.
There have been deaths in vehicle wrecks, drownings and accidents. A man drowned after being trapped under a vehicle. Another got trapped trying to get through a window. And a woman died when a gust of wind knocked her off her porch as she smoked a cigarette as the storm approached, authorities said.
In the hardest-hit county of Lee, Florida, the 45 people killed by the hurricane were over the age of 50.
President Joe Biden visited Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers on Wednesday in an area particularly devastated by winds and rising tides.
Boats, including huge yachts, were tossed to pieces, lying capsized inland far from their usual moorings. Homes and businesses are in ruins with shattered windows, while the surrounding landscape is a wasteland of debris and mud.
The dock is on one side of the bridge that leads to Fort Myers Beach, which has been battered by the storm.
The Biden administration said the president has made additional federal disaster assistance available to Florida, including for debris removal and emergency protective measures.
Restoring electricity has become the first task, but vehicle access from the barrier islands to the mainland is also a priority. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said a temporary bridge to Pine Island should be completed by the end of the week.
Authorities are also planning a similar temporary bridge for neighboring Sanibel Island, but it will take a bit longer.
“They were talking about running ferries and stuff,” DeSantis said. “And honestly, you might be able to do that, but I think it’s an easier thing, and I think people need their vehicles anyway.”
Meanwhile, small motorboats continued to supply Pine Island. Jay Pick, who has been on the island since May to help his in-laws, said winds from Ian blew the roof off the house.
“We are all safe,” Pick said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re blessed. Driving to see what some people have compared to what we have left, you get this survivor-guilt thing. I try not to. I try to be happy for what ‘it remains.”
Arias, who also chose to stay on the island, said Tuesday that many of those who stayed support each other.
“We have now gathered a lot of resources, not only donations but also volunteers,” Arias said. “It’s been a wonderful thing to see how the community has come together. At each end of the island… there’s a family member or neighbor helping that other neighbor.”