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Governor DeSantis visits Sanibel Island, says property owners could return "sooner"

Posted at 6:06 PM, Oct 18, 2022

SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. — The Sanibel Causeway reopened a week ago for emergency personnel and power crews.

Today, Governor Ron DeSantis checked in on the progress that has been made at Sanibel Island. Trucks can be seen crossing over, shuttling much-needed aid to the island.

"So many are going to be coming for the first time to see their homes and it’s going to be very difficult for many," said Holly Smith, Mayor of the City of Sanibel. "That is our lifeline to the mainland. The amount of work that’s been done without the causeway with the barging over it- has been extraordinary. But to give us that access so quickly is just herculean.”

Mayor Smith recounts seeing the progress that’s been made in three week’s time.

"We know what being a Sanibelian is and we know that we’re going to build this back in a greater way than we had anticipated and that’s going to take an entire community to do it.”

The mayor was joined by Governor DeSantis touring the island, first by boat and then by car seeing first-hand Ian’s wreckage along Periwinkle Way.

At the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District, the governor presented individual checks to firefighters. Part of the governor’s legislation from two years ago, giving bonuses to police, fire, and EMTs throughout the state.

“It will lessen the burden of the financial impact that this has caused on their personal level," said Kevin Barbot, Deputy Fire Chief for Sanibel Fire Rescue District. "Whether that be on insurance deductibles or whatever may come with it, there’s a lot of devastation and a lot of loss from our team.”

While progress has been made on the island, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

“This was just an unprecedented disaster that I don’t think anybody could have prepared for.”

Daniel Andrews is with Captains for Clean Waters. He says the biggest challenge he could see will be restoring the interior of Sanibel businesses.

"They had four to ten feet of water inside their businesses," he says. "All of their stuff that was still in there is a wet, moldy mess at this point. I think that’s kind of the biggest factor right now, is how quickly they can clean that up.”

Right now, October 21 is the target day to open Sanibel Island to civilian access. Allowing property owners to visit the island and assess damages. But the governor says that could be moved sooner by a couple of days.

"To have people come and work on their homes and have help doing all of that stuff, I think that’s going to be really wonderful," said Governor DeSantis. "I’m looking forward to being able to welcome the general public back to the island very soon.”

In the meantime, recovery efforts will continue on Sanibel.

Said Smith, "Our council, we’re all committed to making sure this island returns to what we know it can be and better.”