FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Many homes and businesses appear to be completely destroyed as a sheriff's helicopter scans some of the areas pounded by Hurricane Ian's brutal winds.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post on Thursday, "We are devastated. Our hearts go out to every resident who is impacted."
The county's beachside communities, eclectic neighborhoods of trendy restaurants, residences and hotels, appeared in great ruin. Video from the helicopter showed leveled properties, fires burning, and trails of debris strewn for hundreds of yards.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno said in a Thursday afternoon briefing that his department is still performing rescues nearly 24 hours after the hurricane's landfall, which President Joe Biden said could be the deadliest in Florida's history.
He said that there has been a continued influx of calls for service and well-being checks.
Urban Search and Rescue – crews from local agencies such as fire, law enforcement and EMS – began looking for the unaccounted before daylight, with assistance from the State Emergency Operations Center in helping expedite response.
All 15 shelters within the county that opened prior to Hurricane Ian remain open and will remain open until further notice. County emergency leaders are working on increasing food and water supplies, as it is anticipated residents with flooding or structural damage need a place to go.
After confirmation of the collapse of the Sanibel Causeway which links the island to Fort Myers, infrastructure throughout the county is being assessed. County officials said bridge inspectors are checking all bridges to assess their structural integrity.
Details and timing for island residents wishing to return to their homes are unknown at this time.
The county advises residents to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.
Transportation officials are checking more than 400 traffic signals. Motorists who approach intersections with non-working signals are asked to drive as if it is a four-way stop or obey any on-scene law enforcement officers.
At this time, 98% of the county is without power. This will be an extended power-outage event for Lee County. The county is working with FPL and LCEC.