Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday on the Gulf Coast of Florida at nearly the strength of a Category 5 storm. With winds exceeding 150 miles per hour, the system was tied for the fourth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the Sunshine State.
On Thursday afternoon, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno shared footage depicting destroyed neighborhoods and infrastructure along the coastline. Homes and streets were flooded as some residences smoldered with fire, beachfront structures were reduced to scraps, and portions of bridges were entirely washed away or submerged.
This morning Sheriff Carmine Marceno took a tour of Lee County to begin assessing damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
We are devastated. Our hearts go out to every resident who is impacted. The Lee County Sheriffs Office is mobile and will stop at nothing to help our residents. pic.twitter.com/S4OsB8ajRv
— Carmine Marceno – Florida’s Law and Order Sheriff (@SheriffLeeFL) September 29, 2022
“We were incredibly hard hit. It came in as a strong, strong Cat 4, just a couple of miles an hour under a Cat 5,” Marceno said in a statement to CNN. “Today was the first day we were able to get back out and assess and begin that process.”
Lee County is home to nearly 800,000 people, according to data from the Census Bureau, and includes the city of Fort Myers, where nearly 90,000 people reside. The region is a major tourism hub on the Gulf Coast.
According to data from PowerOutage.US, roughly 89% of Lee County businesses and homes were without power as of Thursday afternoon. Lee County Electric Cooperative held repair personnel on standby to begin restoring the grid once Hurricane Ian passed. “The first priority is to repair any damage to the transmission system, because these high-voltage lines supply power from a generating plant to one or more distribution substations and serve tens of thousands of customers,” the company said on its website, advising customers to use backup generators until operators restore power.
Some portions of western Florida experienced storm surges as high as 18 feet, causing difficulties to officials coordinating rescue efforts. Primarily relying upon air support via helicopter, the Coast Guard has rescued nearly two dozen people in Florida as of Thursday morning, with more rescues anticipated throughout the day.
“The top priority … is saving lives,” Coast Guard Deputy Commandant Peter Gautier remarked during an interview with Fox News. “In the days leading up to the storm’s landfall, the Coast Guard moved all its cutters, aircraft, and small boats out of the area so that we could be positioned to bring those back in. That’s happening right now as we speak.”
Gautier, who aided in the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey, described Hurricane Ian as “up there” in terms of severity. “What we haven’t seen traditionally is the combination of massive storm surge from the wind-driven waves and water coming from the ocean and up into the rivers,” he said, likewise referencing “the historic amount of rain in such a short period of time.”
Winds had weakened to 65 miles per hour as of Thursday morning, rendering Hurricane Ian a tropical storm. According to a forecast from the National Hurricane Center, however, the storm has remained more powerful than initial estimates, threatening South Carolina and Georgia as winds gain speed and the system becomes “a hurricane again.”
The agency issued a warning to both states as the system turns to the northwest on Saturday.