Hurricane Ian knocks out part of the Sanibel Island loses its only bridge, with a difficult recovery ahead

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As the eye of Hurricane Ian roared ashore a few miles north of Sanibel Island on Wednesday, the Category 4 storm destroyed a portion of the Sanibel Causeway, a three-mile bridge that serves as the only connection to the nearby area. from Fort Myers-Cape Coral on the Florida mainland.

With the road destroyed, the 12-mile barrier island, which has nearly 6,500 full-time residents, can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

That is making rescues even more difficult on the island, which was severely flooded and suffered “catastrophic damage,” according to Lee County officials, as post-storm conditions are challenging first responders across the state.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida said rescue efforts were continuing. “It got hit by a really biblical storm surge,” he said. “And it razed roads. washed structures.

The US Coast Guard District 7 released images of the damage on the island, showing extensive flooding and some homes destroyed. A Coast Guard spokesman confirmed that crews flew over Sanibel on Thursday and began airlifting some people to safety.

Susan Andrews, owner of SanibelSusan Realty and a resident of the island for more than 30 years, said Thursday that she had evacuated before the storm, but that she had spoken to several friends who stayed behind and were in grave danger. One told Ms. Andrews that she was trapped on the second floor of her house, with the first floor flooded.

The island has a year-round population of 6,461, according to a 2021 census estimate, but it sometimes tops 30,000 as second-home owners and visitors flock there during peak season, she Andrews said. There are no traffic lights or buildings taller than three stories on the island, she said.

“It’s a very special place,” Ella Andrews said. “It will come back, but it will take a long, long time.”

There was no immediate word on how long repairs to the bridge would take. It will require “structural reconstruction,” DeSantis said Thursday.

The loss of the causeway also isolated Captiva, another island north of Sanibel that is dotted with beach resorts. Pine Island, another nearby island, was also cut off when its bridge failed.

Sanibel Mayor Holly D. Smith said in a letter to residents ahead of the storm that she had evacuated and that it was “surreal” to cross the roadway to safety.

“Sanibel is an amazing and resilient community that will certainly come together to come out of this challenge better than ever,” she wrote.


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