A week after Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida, residents of Sanibel island will be allowed back to view their homes Wednesday for the first time since the storm devastated the once tranquil community.
Ian wiped out a portion of the causeway connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland, setting the stage for days of evacuations by air and sea as crews searched for those who were stranded.
Sanibel Island residents and business owners will be allowed to return to survey the damage Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET — and those who do are in for a shock, said City Manager Dana Souza.
“It is going to be emotional when they see their properties up close and the amount of damage that this storm inflicted upon them,” she said.
The residents will be allowed to travel to the island by private boat, officials said. For those who don’t have access to a private boat, Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said the city is making a callout to captains to help others make it to the island because ferry service is currently nonexistent.
On Sanibel, houses that might look fine from the outside may still prove to be too damaged to live in, Smith said, adding that while residents will be given access to their property, the island is still “extremely unsafe.”
“There are a lot of places that are not livable. There are places off their foundation, and it’s very dangerous out there,” Sanibel Fire Chief William Briscoe has said. “There are alligators running around, and there are snakes all over the place.”
Souza also described the devastation, saying most of the electrical poles and transmission lines are down, along with wastewater systems. “Without those necessary infrastructure, it is difficult to sustain a community of 7,000 people year around,” Souza added.
The island’s year-round population is about 7,000 people but it grows to 35,000 during the high season, which is about a month away, according to Souza.
It could take a month or longer to restore power to some areas of Sanibel and Pine islands, Karen Ryan, public relations director for Lee County Electric Cooperative, told CNN.