FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Residents were allowed to return to a coastal island that was decimated by Hurricane Ian on Saturday with a warning from the governor that the disaster isn’t over.
Many of the homes still standing on Estero Island lack basic services, so portable restrooms, hand-washing stations, shower trailers and other essentials were trucked in for residents who want to stay, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference. Debris still has to be removed before rebuilding can begin.
“There’s a lot more to do, and really some of the hardest stuff is still ahead of us,” DeSantis said.
While residents were initially allowed back on the island after the storm, officials shut down access to allow teams to finish searching the wreckage building by building for possible victims. Once the work was done, residents lined up and were allowed to return on buses.
Shana Dam went to see what was left of her parents’ house.
“It’s gone,” she told the Fort Myers News-Press. “It’s just gone.”
Just getting around the island, home to most of Fort Myers Beach, is difficult because of storm debris, but heavy equipment was used to clear roads.
With handmade signs all over the area warning that looters will be shot by homeowners, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said only nine such theft cases had been reported.
Ian, a high-end Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (249 kph) at landfall, was the third-deadliest storm to hit the mainland United States this century behind Hurricane Katrina, which left about 1,400 people dead, and Hurricane Sandy, which had a total death count of 233 despite weakening to a tropical storm just before it made U.S. landfall.
State officials have reported 94 storm-related deaths in Florida so far and most were in Lee County, which includes the Fort Myers area and nearby Gulf Coast islands including Estero.