Sanibel Island officials confirm two deaths
Sanibel Island officials said Thursday that two people died and rescuers evacuated at least 40 people who were uninjured and took 12 people to hospital. There could be more dead and injured as they continue to survey the island.
Officials said they were going house to house looking for survivors.
Officials also said at least 200 households remained on the island during the storm, with the possibility of several people in each home. Those who remained self-declared after authorities asked in the days before the storm.
It will take “weeks or months” to restore the island, with five culverts of the Sanibel Island causeway cutting off land transportation to the island.
The only way in or out is by boat.
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“We have a tough job over the next few months,” Mayor Holly Smith said.
City Manager Dana Souza and Smith said they were assessing the extent of the damage during their first survey of the island, along with police and firefighters, the Department of Public Works and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
They spoke from the Sanibel Room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Thursday night, less than 24 hours after Hurricane Island struck.
“We cannot invite residents back to the island now,” Smith said. “I know it’s difficult. … It’s still too dangerous until we can complete this assessment.”
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Souza said he believes the entire island was hit by storm surge, with estimates ranging from 8 to 15 feet across the land division.
“There’s not a single structure that hasn’t been hit,” Police Chief Bill Dalton said, “I’m not saying it’s all been destroyed, but it’s significantly worse than (the 2004 hurricane) Charley and the worst I’ve seen in 20 years.”
Souza said safety is a major concern, with downed limbs and power poles.
“Search and rescue cannot be compromised,” Souza said, adding that police, firefighters and DPW were routinely crossing the island.
On Friday, staff will examine the island’s electrical infrastructure and water supply system and conduct a helicopter flight.
Sanibel Causeway Breeches
With five breeches within the 3-mile range, Smith said officials would contract with barge operators to bring critical transport to the island.
The barge will begin transporting emergency vehicles, including Department of Public Works trucks, police vehicles and fire engines evacuated before the storm, as well as LCEC repair trucks.
Souza said he hopes to have the barge on site by Sunday.
“This isn’t the first time Sanibel has seen this,” he said. “We’re very good at handling things like that.”
When the island is safe and secure, officials believe the barge will continue to shuttle residents to see their homes.