Hurricane Ian sees thousands in Florida shelters as rescue continues

Fort Myers, Florida - Roughly 10,000 people throughout Florida remain housed in shelters after evacuating their homes, officials said, as Hurricane Ian response efforts continued days after the disaster.

Hurricane Ian's destruction of a road between Matlacha and Pine Island in Florida.
Hurricane Ian's destruction of a road between Matlacha and Pine Island in Florida.  © REUTERS

The number of people displaced — which does not include those who are not staying in shelters — was yet another sign of the level of destruction left behind by Ian, as state and federal agencies continued to recover bodies and transport stranded residents.

The initial emergency phase of rescuing hurricane victims with medical emergencies has largely passed, officials said. The vast majority of rescues at this point are from people who are left stranded in the barrier islands.

In areas that took the brunt of the storm’s landfall within Lee County, including Matlacha and Sanibel Island, some residents journeyed back to survey their homes. But the lack of water and basic infrastructure is forcing them back into limbo, said US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson.

"I think after camping out there after about a night or two, they’re realizing that that’s not a viable option," McPherson told reporters on Saturday during a call with federal officials on the Ian response. "The state is working to get those people to safety and put them in a stable location to reunify them with families. And then we’ll do the, you know, I’m sure the state will, with the support of FEMA, will do the hard work of recovering."

But to many, recovery seems a long ways away. With over 50 people potentially dead, search and rescue efforts ongoing, persistent water problems in Lee County, and over a million still without power, FEMA said it was still too early to identify what types of transitional housing programs it was likely to launch.

"We’re working closely with the state on how to tackle all recovery issues, including housing. Those discussions have started and are ongoing, but there’s no resolutions to those discussions," said Anne Bink, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for response and recovery.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the area last week, calling it "among the worst in the history of the country."

Hurricane Ian sees continued search and rescue effots in Florida

Residents were looking to fill up gas at a distribution center organized in a community in Florida after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction.
Residents were looking to fill up gas at a distribution center organized in a community in Florida after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction.  © REUTERS

On the search and rescue efforts, McPherson said the Coast Guard alone has rescued about 400 people and 100 pets since the storm made landfall, only a fraction of the 4,000 estimated rescues by all assisting agencies at the local and federal level.

In Southwest Florida, the adrenaline and feelings of shock were slowly wearing off and giving way to frustration and anger. Despite the lack of power, and to the tune of chainsaws and generators, a few stores and fast food restaurants near Bonita Springs began opening.

At a Wal-Mart in the area, a dozen people sat on the concrete floor in the entryway with cell phones plugged into outlets. Another dozen waited in line to charge their phones.

Another line wrapped around a McDonald’s despite its limited menu.

At a Chevron station, an argument broke out about who had gotten to the pump first.

Electricity, gas, and hamburgers — America can’t function without them.

In the parking lot of a condo complex, all cars sat with all doors wide open, and floor mats lay on the pavement. It was time to air out the stinky interior after being flooded.

Neighbors fired up two grills by the pool, eager to make something good out of something almost rotten — food from their dead refrigerators and freezers.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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