After inspecting storm-battered Pine Island, which is home to both fishing villages and long-term residents, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vowed to restore the destroyed bridge that has severed the island’s link to the mainland.
“Fixing the bridge? Yes, we will do that. We have to do that,’’ said DeSantis, after touring the Lee County island with FEMA Director Deanne Criswell. “I can’t tell you how long that will take. We’re gonna have to figure out the extent of the damage.”
The damage has stranded people who chose to ride out the storm on the 18-mile-long mangrove-wrapped island, washing out roads and drowning at least one person who has yet to be identified.
“What we’re seeing is some devastating damage that’s out there, and we know that there’s going to be a lot of needs as we go into the recovery process,’’ Criswell said at a news conference on the sun-baked shore of Matlacha.
She urged people to “jump start their recovery” by registering for assistance at FEMA by going to disasterassistance.gov or download the FEMA app or call 1-800-621-3362.
Kevin Guthrie, Florida director of emergency management, said the state would bring barges of heavy equipment to remove debris and open roadways while both the National Guard and Urban Search and Rescue teams do a more complete search for people.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said a ferry would start taking people back and forth to the island. He vowed to maintain security on the island using “a full-fledged marine unit,” the Coast Guard, as well as local, state and federal partners.
Marceno and the governor added a warning to any “scam artists” attempting to “leverage people’s misfortune for their own benefit.”
Asked about whether they had enough time to warn people to evacuate in Lee County, DeSantis and Guthrie defended their decision.
“I talked to all of the area impacted directors every day since last Friday,” Guthrie said. “This particular storm went everywhere from the Keys, all the way up to the Big Bend, and even a little bit further west of that, and then back.”
He said that for Lee County to have successfully evacuated everyone would have taken 48 hours but that’s when the forecasts had Hurricane Ian heading into Levy County.
“As soon as they were made aware of the storm surge” potential in Lee County from the National Weather Service, they “immediately issued” evacuation orders, Guthrie said.
“They made the best decision they could based on the information they had at the time and when the information came in that they needed to evacuate, they did not hesitate,’’ he said. “They immediately pulled the trigger.”
DeSantis added that he and Guthrie stressed the uncertainty and warned people of the potential storm surge and flooding on the region.
“What I saw in Southwest Florida as the data changed, they sprung into action and I think they acted very quickly,’’ he said. He added that he believes “people were made aware. They were told about the dangers and some people just made the decision that they did not want want to leave.”
DeSantis said he was confident there is enough fuel coming into the state to restore power to the 1.6 million still without electricity once hook-ups are connected.
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.