Search, recovery process underway as Hurricane Ian death toll rises in Florida
Evacuation and relief efforts continued in southwest Florida on Tuesday, as the death toll surpassed 100 from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian.
The National Guard flew power crews to Sanibel and Pine Islands to start restoring power Tuesday morning, just six days after Hurricane Ian made landfall.
Local 10 News spotted rescuers using boats and choppers to save survivors — many coming from Pine Island, a tiny fishing community, which is now cut off from the mainland.
Many residents in the Pine Island area are without power or water and have no idea as to when it will be restored.
With so many homes in southwest Florida left flattened and boats being tossed around like toys, many like Lisa Wilson, a resident of Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, felt lucky her property didn’t sustain much damage.
“I do think it’s a miracle, but I also think that Thomas Edison must have built these houses very well,” said Wilson.
Despite sitting right next to the Caloosahatchee River, the more than 100-year-old structures at the Ford and Winter Estates are still standing.
“Thomas Edison actually built the main house and the guest house in 1886, so they’ve been through many storms,” said Wilson. “I would say this is probably the worst one.”
Residents like Tom Jacobs and his wife were one of several to line up outside the Fort Myers Fire Station, where officials are providing free showers to those still in need.
“We’ve been going to the amenity center to get water out of the pool so we can flush our toilets because we don’t have that,” said Jacobs. “Trying to do dishes with pool water and then flush it with clean water–it’s a little rough.”
Capt. Paul Dearmond, of the Fort Myers Fire Department, told Local 10 News that his station has been continuing to help those without power.
“We have these tents here that we would usually use for hazmat calls, and we thought, let’s set these up so people can take a shower,” said Dearmond.
Dearmond said the station has multiple tanker trucks that come in with water and hold about 6,000 gallons.
Search and rescue operations are also continuing in homes near Fort Myers Beach, where crews are still going house-to-house, searching for any signs of life.
Local 10 News spoke with Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, who said nothing will slow his team down in the search and recovery process.
“Whether we’re talking about search and rescue or search and recovery, that doesn’t slow us down,” said Zahralban “We’re going to continue to work as hard as possible to get everybody, to make sure everybody is accounted for.”
In Charlotte County, the National Guard continues to relieve residents in Rotonda by handing out water and MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) to those that are still stuck without power.
“We got water back on, but we can’t drink it,” said one Rotonda resident.
Aside from clean water, hot meals have also been hard to find.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who was attending a Hurricane Ian relief food drive in Fort Myers Tuesday, told Local 10′s Trent Kelly that she is proud of the effort that the search and response teams have made to help those in need.
“Our search and rescue teams are out there on Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island and they helped to evacuate hundreds and hundreds of residents,” said Levine Cava. “A few have stayed behind to help the residents to make sure that they’re safe and then they’re on to the next assignment.”
“We’re very proud and Miami-Dade stands with all of those affected communities,” she added. “We will be here as long as help is needed.”
Pastor Matt Keller, of Next Level Church, told Local 10 News that his team of volunteers has stepped up to make thousands of meals because of the recent hunger crisis caused by Hurricane Ian.
“We are partnering with Mercy Chefs and we are literally making tens of thousands of meals a day,” said Keller. “In the last two days, we’ve served over 40,000 meals, because here in southwest Florida, we’re still in a food and water crisis.”
Keller says his team has delivered hot meals to local hospitals, shelters and to first responders.
“For us, it’s hearing the stories of people who haven’t eaten in three days–people who are checking into the emergency room at the hospital for starvation, because they haven’t eaten since the storm hit,” said Keller. “We’re just meeting the tangible needs of our community.”