Hurricane Ian’s devastating repercussions are continuing to reveal themselves. People across southwestern Florida are reeling from the event as they are left without drinking water, electricity, and livable homes. The damage is still being assessed, and individuals across the state are preparing for what Gov. Ron DeSantis says will be a “yearslong recovery”.
Floridians are no strangers to destructive hurricanes. However, this is certainly one of the most damaging storms to date for the Sunshine State. With floating cars, decimated roadways, toppled trees, and obliterated downtown storefronts, the coastal communities of Naples and Fort Myers are almost unrecognizable – as are some inland neighborhoods surrounding Orlando.
There is not yet a confirmed death toll, although state officials and Governor DeSantis are telling people to expect to hear about fatalities as rescuers comb through the wreckage and search the hardest-hit areas. With over 500 individuals in the Charlotte and Lee Counties having been rescued on Thursday, the town of Fort Myers Beach appears to be completely leveled by the extreme wind and water caused by the major weather event.
In the wake of Hurricane Ian, the search for survivors is a bleak affair. As search-and-rescue teams in Fort Myers Beach set out to knock on every door that was still intact, family members and loved ones across the country are holding their breath for good news. In spite of warnings issued from forecasters before Ian made landfall, evacuation orders were delayed by officials in Lee County – potentially contributing to disastrous results that remain to be seen.
In Florida counties hit the hardest by the hurricane, studies show that less than 20 percent of homes possess flood insurance coverage. This will make rebuilding much more difficult for those affected by the damage. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who opposed help for victims of Hurricane Sandy as a congressman, is turning to the Biden administration for support as he contends with the destruction brought on by Ian.
The full extent of the damage is hard to describe for officials who are engaging with it at the ground level. With unprecedented flooding and historic wreckage, Gov. DeSantis said in a briefing, “We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen a storm surge of this
Magnitude.” Comments like these exhibit just how serious this hurricane was for residents of Florida and beyond.
Fort Meyers Beach was a luxurious tourist destination just mere days ago, with cherished landmarks and a myriad of restaurants, bars, and hotels. Now the small island is unidentifiable by locals and tourists alike, where Hurricane Ian tore through with winds reaching up to 155 miles per hour.
Infrastructure damage is still difficult to gauge, although some estimates are saying that insured losses could total up to $40 billion. With cellphone service either patchy or nonexistent, many people are left in the dark as to whether or not their loved ones are safe or not. Individuals across the country feel “powerless to help”, as they anxiously wait for updates on the welfare of their friends and family members affected by Ian.
At least 2.6 million Florida residents had no power on Thursday, although officials assured people that 20,000 utility workers were working to get the power back on. With the storm destroying sections of bridges that link the mainland of Florida to barrier islands, rescuers were reaching survivors by sea and air in an effort to evacuate those who were trapped in dangerous areas.
People who had chosen not to evacuate made life-threatening escapes through deep floodwaters, using jet skis and kayaks to traverse the overflown terrain. Those who didn’t have access to such resources were forced to take refuge on top of cars or escape to second-story floors where they watched water wreak havoc on their homes.
Communities along the east coast and further inland suffered significantly less damage from Hurricane Ian, although heavy rains and high-speed winds still pelted homes and businesses with frightened residents inside. The National Weather Service issued warnings of “widespread, life-threatening catastrophic flooding” in Central Florida, and many people were forced to evacuate to find a safe place to hunker down.
As rescuers and officials continue to assess the damage, the complete scope of the repercussions remains to be seen. At this point in time, Florida’s top priority is to get survivors to a safe place and reestablish essential resources such as electricity, water, and food. Until then, rebuilding is an undertaking that seems almost inconceivable.