LEE COUNTY, Fla. – As we conclude our special series of reports into early lessons learned from Hurricane Ian, we take a look at how key areas of infrastructure held up during the storm and how the area is making its way through recovery.
Recovery will take years for southwest Florida and no doubt infrastructure will change but first, we need to understand what failed and why Local 10 Hurricane Expert and Storm Surge Specialist Michael Lowry went to investigate Hurricane Ian’s damage with a civil engineering expert.
We’ve all seen the images of the Sanibel Island bridge which was just one of the key bridges to barrier islands affected by both the wind and waves generated by this massive storm.
Dr. Fred Bloetscher, with the College of Engineering at Florida Atlantic University, said the failures were due to the construction of the seawalls, as well as the approaches to the bridge.
“What you need is a true sheet piling that goes down in the ground,” said Bloetscher. “Then what we need to do is start putting in geo-grids so if the water does get in there, the geo-grids are designed so that it doesn’t allow the material to move.”
Bloetscher also said what’s surprising is how quickly temporary repairs were made which allowed residents and recovery crews to regain access to the islands.
“I think we all need to understand these are temporary fixes,” said Bloetscher.
99 percent of the county’s 446 traffic signals were operational within ten days of the storm in large part due to newer construction methods.
“When you look at the damage in the photos, you look at the aerials, what stands out to you as being the biggest surprise, or the biggest takeaway?” Lowry asked.
“Couple of big surprises,” Bloetscher responded. “One is how well I think how well the power grid held up which tells you how quickly they got the power grid back.”
A second surprise is how quickly a boil water notice was lifted for the majority of residents in Lee County although Bloetscher said there are areas of concern.
“The storm surge that you saw here, you saw on Fort Myers Beach you saw sand all over the road,” said Bloetscher. “Now if there was an opening in the system guess where that sand is its down in the sanitary sewer system it also filled the sanitary sewer system up so it was nonfunctioning.”
Long before the storm hit, emergency crews were strategically positioned and ready to move into action.
“Overall, the response to this getting people out here the state, the feds, the county--everybody responded to this so people were here in a hurry,” Bloetscher said.
The successes of the infrastructure and plans for response go to show that the lessons learned from 5 other major hurricanes to hit the gulf coast in the last six years are valuable and lifesaving.