BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. – Nicholas Bethke said he and his girlfriend held on to their recreational vehicle’s roof with their dog after the storm surge got up to their heads Wednesday. They swam to safety. The powerful current pushed the RV for miles until it crashed into a tree in Fort Myers Beach.
A Coast Guard helicopter responded to a flooded area at another RV community in Fort Myers just before Gov. Ron DeSantis reported there were about 700 Hurricane Ian-related rescues just on Thursday. Many like Bethke refused to evacuate.
“I wasn’t too sure about [the evacuation order] in the beginning, but it was absolutely the right move,” Scotty Levy said, adding he had learned a lesson: “When they say evacuate, get out!”
A woman and her parents who are in their 80s had to climb on a counter when the storm surge was about 4 feet high and they lost their three cars, but she said she was grateful they had survived. State officials reported there were at least nine hurricane-related deaths and they expected the death toll to increase.
President Joe Biden said, Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
Ian’s havoc in Fort Myers included an empty white refrigerator on the grass over a median. It was just between the moving cars that were traveling on the Tamiami Trail. Without working traffic lights, police officers asked drivers to treat intersections as four-way stop signs.
Drivers and pedestrians were near unstable electric poles and overhead power lines. Ian also flooded several communities with recreational vehicles and mobile homes. Some were RVs overturned in parking lots that had turned into ponds.
Right before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cayo Costa, the Category 4 storm packed 155 mph winds.
Near Cayo Costa, the hurricane’s 20-foot waves caused Sanibel Island’s only causeway to the mainland to collapse in several places. It was closed southbound at Punta Rassa Road and northbound at Sextant Drive.
The Caloosahatchee River flooded the city of Fort Myers and the water flooded hotels and restaurants in the Main Street and Broadway area, near the Old Lee County courthouse.
The storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico flooded Fort Myers Beach and scattered debris. The historic T-shaped pier was gone. Nearby, the San Carlos RV Park & Islands was full of debris. From SKY 10, it appeared that some of the brick foundations were pulverized.
The wind, which uprooted large trees, weakened as the storm moved inland. State officials reported at least seven hurricane-related deaths and expected more. DeSantis said he traveled to the area to get assessment reports on the damage to roads, bridges, and infrastructure.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. National Guard helicopters were involved in rescue efforts.
Many survivors were in communication dead zones, without potable water, or electricity. Cape Coral officials reported that a damaged water system distribution pipeline prompted the shutdown of the city’s potable water system.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and the Fort Myers Police Department asked anyone who is concerned about their family’s safety in the area to call 239-321-7700.
LEE COUNTY NOTICES
- Curfew begins at 6 p.m.
- Solid waste garbage collection will resume on Monday.
- There is a boil-water notice in effect.
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More reports from Fort Myers
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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.