residents return after the hurricane

(CNN) — A week after Hurricane Ian hit Florida, residents of one of its barrier islands will be able to return to their homes Wednesday for the first time since the cyclone devastated the once-peaceful community.

Ian destroyed a section of the main highway connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland, setting the stage for days of evacuations by air and sea as crews searched for those stranded.

Residents of Sanibel Island returning to assess the damage to their community will be shocked, City Manager Dana Souza said.

“It’s going to be emotional when they see their properties up close and the amount of damage this storm has done to them,” Souza told CNN.

People load supplies onto a boat in Matlacha, Florida, to be taken to Sanibel Island on Tuesday.

Homes that may look good from the outside may still be too damaged to live in, Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said.

While residents will have access to their properties, the island remains “extremely unsafe,” Smith said.

“There are many places that are not habitable. There are places beyond its foundation, and it’s very dangerous out there,” said Sanibel Fire Chief William Briscoe. “There are alligators around and snakes everywhere.”

Souza also described the devastation, saying most power poles and transmission lines were down, along with sewage systems. “Without that necessary infrastructure, it’s difficult to sustain a community of 7,000 people year-round,” Souza added.

“It will be some time before we can resume normal life on Sanibel,” he said.

The island’s year-round population is about 7,000 people, but it increases to 35,000 during the high season, which is about a month away, according to Souza.

It could take a month or more to restore power to some areas of Sanibel and Pine Islands, Karen Ryan, director of public relations for the Lee County Electric Cooperative, told CNN.

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“It will be much easier to restore power once we have access to the island,” Ryan said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis directed transportation authorities to prioritize repairs to the Sanibel Causeway, which was damaged at several points during the storm.

“Access to our barrier islands is a priority for our first responders and emergency services who have been working around the clock to provide assistance to all Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian,” the governor said in a statement.

Aerial view of the Sanibel Causeway, a road that connects Fort Myers to the island community.

Schools closed and hospitals without water or electricity

Days after the hurricane hit, as destroyed homes line the streets, residents continue to cope with the losses.

As of Tuesday, at least 109 people have died from the hurricane in the United States, with 105 of those deaths in Florida.

It is unclear how many people are still missing. Florida officials are working to consolidate a list of people still missing, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Monday.

So far, more than 2,300 rescues have been carried out nationwide, DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday. More than 1,000 urban search and rescue personnel searched 79,000 structures in Florida.

While search and rescue efforts continue, many residents still know nothing.

According to, more than 330,000 customers in Florida were still without power as of early Wednesday. Many of the outages are in the hardest hit counties of Lee and Charlotte.

In Charlotte County, north of Fort Myers, public schools will remain closed until further notice after several of its 22 schools were damaged by Hurricane Ian.

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“The storm lasted here for more than 12 hours and just blew around. Nothing is safe at this time,” Charlotte County Public Schools spokesman Mike Riley said.

Florida hospitals also had problems. Emergency departments suffered damage, staff suffered as many hospital workers were displaced or lost their vehicles, and some facilities lost reliable access to water.

In this aerial view, a crew works to repair the road leading to Pine Island on Tuesday.

“We were ready, we had our generators ready. We had plenty of fuel. What we could not and did not expect was the loss of water from our utilities,” says Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO of Lee Health.

Many areas remain under boil water advisories since the storm made landfall, damaging critical infrastructure as well as homes.

Residents of Lee and Charlotte counties, the two counties with the highest death toll from the hurricane, will be able to get temporary blue roofing with fiber-reinforced sheets for their roofs to help reduce further damage, according to a statement from Charlotte County. .

Meanwhile, in Naples, hundreds of residents may not be able to return to their homes for a period of time, City Manager Jay Boodheshwar told CNN.

“There was a significant number of houses, in fact, an entire neighborhood was under water with at least three feet of water. Some areas had six to seven feet of water,” said Boodheshwar. “I would guess there were probably hundreds households that will experience a period where they will not be able to be in their homes.”

Members of the Miami-Dade Task Force 1 search and rescue team search for victims in a pile of debris in Matlacha, Florida on Tuesday.

A family is remembering the man who died during the hurricane for his generosity

As rescue teams continue to sift through the rubble for signs of life, some families learn that their loved ones did not survive.

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Stacy Verdream told CNN that she learned that her “funny, goofy, very smart” uncle, Mike Verdream, was among Ian’s victims.

Mike Verdream decided to ride out the hurricane in Matlacha and planned to go to his boss’s two-story house if things got worse, his cousin told CNN.

Stacy Verdream said her cousin spoke to him on Wednesday, the day the hurricane made landfall, and he said the water was 4 feet (120 centimeters) deep before he told her to go.

“It was a very short call because he said he was very scared and she’d never heard him like that before because he wasn’t that kind of person. He always put on a brave face,” Stacy Verdream said. “But she said he sounded absolutely terrified.”

On Friday, the family was told that the uncle had survived the storm and was helping people, Verdream said. They were told he couldn’t call because his phone got wet.

Her niece said it made sense at first because her uncle was “very generous.”

Mike Verdream is one of the victims of Hurricane Ian, his family said.

“He would give you the shirt he had on, the last dime he had if anyone needed it,” Stacy Verdream said. “Always concerned to help other people and not himself.”

As time went on, they worried that he hadn’t borrowed someone’s phone or found another way to communicate.

On Monday, the sheriff’s office informed the family that Verdream had died. His body was found in a canal on Friday, he said.

Authorities had to use medical records to identify her uncle because his face was unrecognizable, Stacy Verdream said.

“He was always there for me growing up, taught me how to drive and took me to the fair,” she said. “The nice guy who would buy me like a dirt bike and bought us the jet ski to go out on the lake together. He just loved us to death.”

CNN’s Amy Simonson, Amanda Musa, Leyla Santiago, Melissa Alonso, Naomi Thomas and David Williams contributed to this report.



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