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Ian's path of ruin: Sanibel bridge severed, Gulf Coast cities flooded. Rescues continue

Linda Robertson, Joey Flechas, David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

FORT MYERS, Fla. — As Ian continued its destructive trek across Florida, roughly 2 million households across the state awoke on Thursday without electricity as the Gulf Coast began to assess leveled homes, flooded buildings and streets, and damaged or destroyed road and bridges.

Rescue crews also continued pulling people stranded on barrier islands — a task complicated on the popular tourist destinations of Sanibel and Captiva because a section of the only bridge linking them to the mainland had been washed away.

While there were likely to be deaths across Florida — at least two people may have died from storm — Gov. Ron DeSantis urged caution about early rumors of mass fatalities, saying rescuers were still responding to earlier 911 calls.

“There’s a number of people who have been helicoptered to safety,” DeSantis said at a Thursday morning briefing in Tallahassee.

Across Southwest Florida, where Hurricane Ian made landfall as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the United States, the scenes of devastation were jarring.

A chunk of that causeway to Sanibel Island, the normally idyllic barrier island, was completely severed, making passage possible only by boat. Exactly how many people, if any, remained stranded on the barrier islands was unclear. The mainland road leading to the causeway was folded up like an accordion and covered by debris, including a stray spiral staircase deposited by the winds into the brush next to a pickup truck.

 

The road to Pine Island, another residential barrier island off shore from Ft. Myers, was also impassable, Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Thursday morning briefing. Some 100 engineers had been dispatched to inspect bridges.

In hard-hit Cape Coral, emergency crews were trying to clear roads on Thursday morning as pipeline damage forced the city to shut down its water system. Officials urged residents to boil water and drink bottled water.

In downtown Fort Myers, boats that had been docked in the river sat in a jumble in the parking lot of Joe’s Crab Shack, hulls ripped open.

“I’ll take a snowstorm over this any day,” said Natalie Mathweg, who on Thursday morning was walking two dogs with her sister and father. They slogged through thick, gooey mud and over downed trees, street lamps and telephone poles. They’d just survived their first hurricane after moving to Florida from Wisconsin last year.

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