Sanibel Island: A “War Zone” where some aliens choose to leave and others choose to stay

Sanibel Island, Florida

An elderly couple who fled Hurricane Ian at their home on Florida’s Sanibel Island could not agree to evacuate after parts of their road to the mainland were destroyed.

“Let’s go. Let’s go,” said the unidentified man to his partner as he looked down from the upper porch of the house.

“But where?” he asked.

Fort Myers, the men who arrived by boat and members of a rescue mission told him.

“The bridge is down.”

“I’m not ready to go,” he said Thursday, trailing behind.

Ian has left at least two people dead on the barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and volunteers from the Louisiana Cajun Army and other rescue groups have been in boats checking on about 200 homes that were not evacuated.

“When Americans have problems in bad places, we usually think of war zones and conflict zones, but Hurricane Ian fills that,” he said. Bryan Stern, a former military intelligence officer with experience in places like Ukraine and Afghanistan.

It’s Stern Co-founder of Project Dynamo, a group of veterans who locate at-risk Americans in conflict zones and transport them to safety. Its name comes from the operation that evacuated the Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in France during the Second World War.

“Now we are here. We’re going to rescue some people from Sanibel, which is cut off from the world right now,” he said. “So it’s a great fit.”

Ian tore out several sections of the causeway that was the only access to the island from the Florida peninsula. Thursday night, dozens of people stopped by, according to Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith.

Sanibel Causeway – At least five sections connecting Sanibel and Captiva iland on the peninsula – washed away by the storm, Lee County officials said.

Twelve people from Sanibel Island were rescued with injuries and about 40 people were rescued uninjured, the mayor told CNN on Thursday. Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza announced the news of the two deaths.

Asked if the city is livable today, the mayor said, “Frankly, no.”

Many beach huts along the shores of Sanibel Island were wiped out by Ian’s storm surge, new aerial images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show. Most of the homes appear to have had roof damage along with storm surge and flood damage.

“The devastation is unbelievable,” Stern told CNN. “This is a real massacre. It’s a war zone.”

Nancy and Robert Sharon Stern’s clothing and Cajun Army volunteers were among the people rescued Thursday.

“I heard they weren’t going to do anything after the bridge closed, but my grandkids are in Ohio and she was crying hysterically when I talked to her,” Nancy Sharon said.

His grandchildren contacted the Cajun Army and Project Dynamo and asked them to check for evidence of life.

Damage from Hurricane Ian: The causeway connecting the Florida mainland and the island fell into the ocean

Some rescue teams were airlifted to the islands and went door-to-door checking on residents, according to Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis. The Florida National Guard was assisting in the effort, Patronis added.

As of April 2021, about 6,400 people lived in the city of Sanibel, according to the US Census Bureau. There are many hotels and resorts on the islands, whose beaches attract a large number of tourists every year.

A 2017 City of Sanibel count measured annual bridge traffic over the roadway at more than 3 million vehicles.

Lee County officials were assessing the damage and also conducting search and rescue operations, Lee County Executive Roger Desjarlais said Thursday.

Federal urban search and rescue teams were deployed across the country.

All 15 shelters in the county that opened before the storm were still open, Desjarlais said. About 4,000 people took shelter on Wednesday evening.

“Given the amount of damage in the community, I think it’s reasonable to expect that those shelters will start to fill up a little bit more. We have room for around 40,000 people”, added the provincial official.

A boil water order was in effect across the region, he said. Bridge inspections were also being carried out across the region. Officials hope to have all bridges inspected by Friday, Desjarlais said.

He said there was also “significant damage to buildings” on Sanibel Island.

Aerial view of Shallmar Cottages and Motel on Sanibel Island, Florida, after Hurricane Ian.

“I can say that in all these years I have never seen damage in Lee County from a storm like this. When you take a look at the barrier islands, especially from the air, it’s very clear to see where the storm made landfall,” said Desjarlais.

Sanibel was devastated, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Thursday, adding that the area had been hit by a “biblical storm surge.”

“He cleared the roads, they were not new and he cleared the structures that could withstand it,” he said.

The roadway will be rebuilt, DeSantis said. “But that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

Residents were asked to stay inside to avoid injury and to allow first responders to assess the damage, Lee County officials said Thursday.

Watch US Coast Guard rescue woman from flooded neighborhood

Smith, the mayor of Sanibel, planned to visit the island on Friday. He told CNN’s John Berman that he was seeing some images of the damage on CNN for the first time and “it’s pretty shocking to me.”

DeSantis said they continued to receive messages concerned about families with loved ones. But many stranded on the island are waving and thanking rescuers for coming, but for now he said they are staying put.