EAST NAPLES, Fla. – Hurricane Ian’s aftermath in Lee and Collier counties means driving through inundated streets despite a gas shortage, shopping only with cash at the few stores open, staying away from damaged electric poles, and finding boats stuck in unlikely areas.
On Thursday, a day after the Category 4 storm made landfall on Cayo Costa, a barrier island in Lee County, the survivors who were able to sleep were without electricity or cell service. Local and state officials said crews were working to restore both.
By the afternoon, about two dozen people lined up at a 7-Eleven in Fort Myers. A RaceTrac gas station east of Naples, off the Tamiami Trail, became a haven for those who were in search of fuel, a cell signal, cold water, and hot food. There were many gas stations damaged.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said there were at least 700 rescues on Thursday and most of them required the use of helicopters due to road damage. The federal government deployed hundreds of urban search-and-rescuers. There were U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. National Guard helicopters.
President Joe Biden said, Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
State officials reported there were at least nine hurricane-related deaths and they were expecting more as the survivors faced the dangers of the aftermath. Dana Souza, Sanibel Island’s city manager, announced the death toll included two Sanibel residents.
“My heart aches for those people that have been in the path of Hurricane Ian, for the lives that have been forever changed by this storm,” said Deanne Criswell, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.
Some of the evacuees will return to find out they are homeless. Ian caused plenty of water damage to recreational vehicles, mobile homes, houseboats, and oceanfront properties. Some will have to search for their cars and boats after the storm surge devoured them and spit them out miles away.
“We have been hit very hard,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said. “I can tell you from the heart, there are no words that can describe what we got to see.”
Safety tips after a hurricane
- Stay out of floodwater.
- Never use a wet electrical device.
- If the power is out, use flashlights instead of candles.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Be careful near damaged buildings.
- Stay away from power lines.
- Protect yourself from animals and pests.
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