Sanibel Island and its residents “forever changed,” mayor says

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Biden says Hurricane Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history”

The destruction that Hurricane Ian caused when it hit Sanibel Island on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm was catastrophic, with damage so severe that the island has been cut off from Florida’s mainland. The wreckage led the city’s mayor to pen an emotional letter to residents on Thursday, in which she said Sanibel is “forever changed.” 

“I am struggling to find the words to convey my feelings, as I am sure most of us are as we look to the past four days,” wrote Mayor Holly Smith. “All our lives and our island have been forever changed. What we do tomorrow and the days and months ahead will redefine and strengthen our community.”

The island is currently cut off from Florida’s mainland, after Ian destroyed parts of the causeway connecting the two. 

Sanibel received some of the most devastating impacts of the storm, which pummeled the southwest region. Photos show homes with parts of their walls and roofs missing. Some buildings that were under construction had their roofs entirely torn off. Other homes were seen on fire Thursday, a major risk after powerful storms amid electrical issues and downed wires. 

Sanibel is destruction,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during an afternoon briefing on Thursday, saying it “got hit with really biblical storm surge.” 

Smith said that the city’s priority in the coming days is to help those who are stranded. She asked that people provide officials names and addresses of loved ones who did not evacuate ahead of the storm, and said the city requested barge service to help recover assets and people from the island. Nearly 6,500 people live in Sanibel, according to 2021 census data

Nearby Captiva Island has also been cut off. Footage of the causeways released by Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno shows large chunks broken off and underwater. Homes in the county appear heavily damaged and many areas remain flooded. 

“I know how much we want to get back on our island and to our homes and businesses. Please be prepared that we do not know what that will look like,” she said. “Images we are receiving and those you are likely seeing show the gravity of conditions. I ask for your patience and I know how difficult that may be.” 

Tropical Weather
A home burns on Sanibel Island in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fla.

Wilfredo Lee / AP

“The job ahead of all of us is very tough,” Smith continued. “We are heart sick and devastated, but our community will prove to be so much stronger than Ian. Our island and our community needs us more than ever.” 

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