Picking up the pieces in Florida: Hurricane Ian’s toll so far
Bridges are being rebuilt, power restored and roads cleared in a rebuilding process that could take years. Meanwhile, they’re still counting the dead
Hurricane Ian’s gone. But the trail of wreckage left in its wake will take possibly years to overcome.
As a CNN headline put it Thursday, “More than a week after Hurricane Ian, Florida residents face life without water, electricity, and in many cases, their homes.”
Residents, the article noted, “contend with closed schools, power outages, tainted water, destroyed homes and lost loved ones.”
Officials say at least 120 people died in Florida due to Ian, though media sources have reported different numbers of confirmed deaths. Another five died in North Carolina. And the death counts are not final as search teams continue to comb through debris.
The Florida Medical Examiners Commission told media Tuesday that at least 40 people drowned.
Many of those who died had ignored recommendations — and in some cases, mandates — to evacuate. It’s estimated that close to a dozen people drowned in their homes, while many others were swept away, their bodies found on beaches or among debris, left behind as water receded.
While it’s easy to judge other people’s decisions in a disaster, Samantha Montano, an assistant professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who studies disasters, told USA Today that “people generally are trying to make the best decisions for them and their families with the resources they have.”
According to USA Today, the population of Florida has risen 60% since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit. And the number of homes has doubled, putting more people at risk from serious hurricanes like Ian.
“The state’s population over the age of 65 is growing and that increases the risks because it may be harder for those individuals to evacuate, researchers said. The average age among the confirmed deaths in Ian so far is nearly 71,” the article said.
Rescue teams had pulled at least 2,500 people to safety as of Wednesday morning, according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. But there’s no reckoning on how many people are still missing or what their status might be.
During a visit Wednesday in Fort Myers, President Joe Biden said that 100% federal funding for debris removal and infrastructure repairs would be available for 60 days, rather than the standard 30 days.
DeSantis reported that emergency road and bridge repairs for Pine Island had already been completed, just three days after that reconstruction effort began. He also announced work was beginning to reconnect Sanibel Island to the mainland via bridge. Hurricane damage had effectively cut the island off.
An advisory from DeSantis’ office updated both damage and recovery efforts. Among highlights:
- Florida Department of Transportation is building temporary bridges into areas that had been cut off.
- Eleven fueling depot stations are open and a mobile fuel truck has been sent to Arcadia, where residents lacked access to fuel.
- The Florida National Guard has been clearing road debris in Pinella and Lee counties.
- The Missouri Task Force 1 Disaster Situational Assessment and Reconnaissance Team is supporting urban search and rescue efforts and incident assessment.
- Joint Task Force Florida’s 5,050 personnel are responding to Hurricane Ian in a variety of target missions.
- Twenty-seven special emergency supply sites have already distributed 2,728 pallets of water, 2,331 pallets of food, 606 pallets of ice and 385 pallets of tarps to residents impacted by what was a Category 4 storm when it tore through the Sunshine State.
Nearly a quarter-million customers have no power, according to PowerOutage.us.
Though some schools are reopening, among the heartrending stories is that of children going to school one last time to say goodbye to teachers: Many lost their homes and will be moving, as Collier County Public Schools spokesperson Chad Oliver told CNN.
More than half of schools in Lee County need repair and some cannot be fixed.
Health facilities are struggling in the southwestern part of the state. Some were badly damaged at the same time that the need for medical care rose.
And despite preparations, some are dealing with issues that were unexpected.
“We were ready, we had our generators all ready. We had plenty of fuel. What we couldn’t anticipate and didn’t anticipate was the loss of water from our utility companies,” Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health, told CNN.
Cities fared differently
In Ian’s path, the damage was uneven.
CNN reported that every home on Sanibel Island had been damaged and many were destroyed.
The article quoted Anddy Garcia, who owns a property management company there, saying that their homes were gone. “It’s totally devastating to hear them on the other end of the phone, just gasping for air, and you’re telling them their home was destroyed,” Garcia said. “It’s totally heart-wrenching for me.”
One community was relatively unscathed as Ian tore through nearby, according to NPR: Babcock Ranch “an innovative community north of Fort Myers where homes are built to withstand the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them without being flooded out or losing electrify, water or the internet.”
The article said it was built 30 miles inland so it wouldn’t be hit by storm surges. Power lines are underground, and the community is surrounded by “giant retaining ponds.” Additionally, “streets are designed to absorb flood waters and spare the houses.”
The article noted that most in the community rode out the storm and the evidence it even passed through was slight: one blown-away street light and a few signs that fell, as well as “some knocked-over palm trees.” The community center is now sheltering others from hard-hit communities, the story said.