Hurricane Ian left behind swamped cars, capsized boats and flooded neighborhoods across a wide swath of Florida on Thursday as it crossed the peninsula, entered the Atlantic Ocean and regained hurricane strength before turning west toward South Carolina.
The hurricane destroyed most of Fort Meyers Beach and parts of Fort Myers as it came ashore. Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said during an afternoon briefing that the hurricane breached the Sanibel Island causeway in five locations. The destruction leaves more than 6,000 residents of Sanibel and Captiva Islands without road access to the mainland.
“Our community looks like it’s been hit by a very large tornado,” Lee said.
South of Fort Myers, the storm surge pushed into the city of Naples in neighboring Collier County, inundating a city fire station along with other buildings. The Naples Daily News reported that the storm heavily damaged the Naples Pier and flooded neighborhoods near the coast. Mayor Teresa Heitmann told the newspaper that the city suffered $20 million in damages just to its own government property.
Photographs posted online by Bay News 9 showed that hurricane damage reached northward into the Tampa Bay Area, which avoided a direct hit despite early forecasting that the hurricane would come ashore there. The photos showed downed trees that fell on top of houses in Valrico and Lakeland and the twisted remains of numerous screened pool enclosures.
Homes were flooded throughout Central Florida. The Universal Studios theme park in Orlando was swamped by several feet of water, according to a local news report. Seminole County reported that at least 1,000 homes there had been impacted by flooding. Video taken by a drone, posted online by the city of Kissimmee, showed widespread flooding that had reached the second floor of a large parking garage.
The destruction reached all the way to the Atlantic coast. A video posted online by WESH 2 television showed wind from the hurricane tearing the roof off a large building. The Associated Press reported that Ian caused significant damage to the Flagler Beach pier, despite being downgraded to tropical storm status before reaching the Atlantic coast.
The Red Cross reported that 33,000 people sought refuse in approximately 260 evacuation shelters in Florida. That number may increase as power outages continue and people leave homes that are so damaged they are no longer inhabitable, the nonprofit organization said. An estimated 2.3 million Florida utility customers were without power on Thursday evening, according to poweroutages.us.
The National Hurricane Center reported Thursday afternoon that Ian had regained hurricane status and was expected to make landfall on the South Carolina coast between Charleston and Myrtle Beach early. Maximum sustained winds were at 75 mph.
As reported by the Claims Journal on Wednesday, industry experts projected that Hurricane Ian would cause $20 billion to $40 billion in property damage, possible making it among the top-five most expensive natural catastrophes in history.
About the photo: This image, taken from video provided by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, shows widespread hurricane damage in the Fort Myers area.
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