(CNN) — After Hurricane Ian obliterated communities in Florida, rescue crews going door-to-door in search of survivors are reporting more deaths, and residents grappling with the losses are facing a long, daunting recovery.
As of Monday, at least 101 people have been reported killed by the hurricane in Florida — 54 of them in Lee County alone. Ian also claimed the lives of four people in North Carolina.
Ian slammed into Florida as a furious Category 4 hurricane last Wednesday. Days later, there are residents of island communities cut off from the mainland, hundreds of thousands of people without power, and Floridians who have found themselves homeless.
In some cases, government officials dealing with recovery efforts are among those who lost their homes.
Fort Myers Beach City Councilman Bill Veach said his 90-year-old cottage is in ruins, with only one section that was a recent addition left standing. Pieces of his home were found two blocks away, he said.
“When you are walking around the ruins, it’s an apocalyptic scene,” Veach said of his neighborhood.
Still, even in the wreckage, there have been moments of hope, he said.
“You see a friend that you weren’t sure was alive or dead and that brings you joy. A joy that is so much more than the loss of property,” Veach added.
Rescuers throughout the state have been coming to the aid of trapped residents via boat and aircraft. More than 1,900 people have been rescued as of Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference.
Some residents who were anxiously waiting to hear from their loved ones have received unimaginable news.
Elizabeth McGuire’s family said they last spoke with her Wednesday and had been having trouble reaching her. They learned Friday that the 49-year-old had been found dead in her Cape Coral home.
Police told her family she died in her bed holding her cell phone and it looked like she died instantly, her son Andrew Chedester said.
McGuire’s mother, Susan McGuire, said the destruction of the storm “is massive.”
“One hundred blizzards will not cost you what one hurricane will cost you,” said Susan McGuire, who moved to Florida from Maryland a few years ago. “My husband’s business whipped out, my daughter is dead … I never had a blizzard take anything away from me.”
Homes are ‘unlivable’ on islands cut off from the mainland, with ‘alligators running around’
On Sanibel Island, now cut off from the Florida peninsula after Ian wiped out a portion of the roadway connecting them, every house shows damage, Sanibel Fire Chief William Briscoe said.
“There are a lot places that are not livable. There are places off their foundation, and it’s very dangerous out there,” Briscoe said. “There are alligators running around, and there are snakes all over the place.”
Crews have evacuated 1,000 people from Sanibel since Hurricane Ian ripped through the island, according to Briscoe.
A similar situation is playing out on nearby Pine Island, the largest barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Just days ago, it was a tranquil fishing and kayaking destination known for its small-town atmosphere. Now it is a scene of carnage, with cracked roadways and destroyed homes.
Ian destroyed the only bridge to Pine Island, making it only accessible by boat or aircraft.
Supplies are now being air dropped to the island by helicopter as some residents choose to stay, authorities said.
“Food is being delivered to Pine Island. Now, is it enough to sustain them over a long period of time? I can’t say that yet, none of us can,” Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said Monday.
Emergency physician Dr. Ben Abo, who joined rescuers on Pine Island, said crews are encountering residents who were in denial the storm would hit the area and are now running out of supplies.
“I’m seeing a lot of despair, but I’m also seeing hope,” Abo said. “I’m seeing urban search and rescue, fire rescue, bringing hopes to people that we’re going to get through this. But we have to do it in stages.”
Work is underway to install a temporary bridge for Pine Island and the goal is to have it completed by the end of the week, DeSantis said Monday.
“This is not necessarily going to be a bridge you’re going to want to go 45 miles per an hour over maybe, but at least you’ll have connectivity to the mainland,” the governor said.
The National Guard will also be flying power crews to Sanibel and Pine islands to start working on restoring power.
At Fort Myers Beach, power may not be restored on for 30 days due to damage to the electrical infrastructure, according to Desjarlais.
He painted a somber picture of the area, describing thousands of destroyed boats and vessels that have ended up in yards, in mangroves, and sunk in shallow waters and environmental hazards from leaking diesel and fuel.
As rescue efforts continue, it’s unclear how many are still missing
After Ian slammed into Florida’s west coast, a Naples man trekked through nearly half a mile of floodwater to save his 85-year-old mother.
Johnny Lauder, a former police officer, told CNN he sprang into action after his mother, who uses a wheelchair, called in a panic and said water was rushing into her home and reaching her chest.
He arrived at her home to find her neck-deep in floodwater, but happy to see her son.
“The water was up to the windows, and I heard her screaming inside,” Lauder said. “It was a scare and a sigh of relief at the time — a scare thinking she might be hurt, a sigh of relief knowing that there was still air in her lungs.”
Lauder was able to bring his mother to safety as floodwaters began to recede.
It’s unclear how many people remain unaccounted for after the storm. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said authorities are working to consolidate a list of the missing.
Tonia Werner is among those waiting to hear news about a loved one. It’s been three days since she heard anything about her father, David Park, who was admitted to ShorePoint ICU in Port Charlotte days before Hurricane Ian made landfall.
“As of Friday he was on a ventilator and that’s the last contact,” Tonia told CNN. “No phones, nothing. I don’t even know if he’s alive. I have reached out every which way I can think of, begging for information because we’re stuck. And there’s no way to get to him.”
Tonia lives nearly an hour away from Port Charlotte and is cut off from being able to reach the area by flooding in Arcadia, which has blocked access for anybody to get across town, she said.
Hospitals in Florida have been experiencing “significant pressure” on capacity since Ian hit, said Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association.
Emergency departments have sustained damage, staffing has been impacted as many hospital workers have been displaced or lost their vehicles in the hurricane, and facilities lost reliable access to water.
Hospitals also don’t typically discharge patients who don’t have a place to go, whether their homes were damaged in the storm or their nursing homes were evacuated and temporarily closed.
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