Sanibel residents allowed to temporarily return to the island

Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
Hurricane Ian damage on Sanibel Island. (Credit: City of Sanibel)

The City of Sanibel held a news conference on Tuesday to update the recovery efforts in one of the places where Hurricane Ian hit the hardest.

Due to the damage the island sustained, the update was held in the Sanibel Room at the Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers.

Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said the city is committed to getting back to normal.

Until then, the city is allowing residents to get back on the island during the day on Wednesday to return to their homes and business.

The city is under a 24-hour curfew until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, when people will be allowed back. The city said the island would remain open until the curfew is enacted again at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. City Manager Dana Souza said the curfew means people should not be on the island, even in their homes.

Residents and business owners who want to return to the island will have to find their way back. The city said it is not providing transportation to the island and is not recommending people go if they don’t have to.

Souza said the National Guard and police would be on the island at checkpoints to check that people on the island are allowed to be there. The city only allows residents with IDs with a Sanibel address or people with a Hurricane Pass. Hurricane Passes will be available at the Sanibel Room in the Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers.

The city said people heading back to the island could bring help, but those people must always stay with the person who is a resident or has a Hurricane Pass.

Sanibel officials say there is no access to the island in the Ding Darling area.

The city asks that you not bring a generator to the island as fire is a significant concern. A fire truck at the island will work to keep a fire from spreading, but the city attorney said the truck has only a minute or so worth of water in its tank.

There will also be limited healthcare availability for those who return to the island to see the damage to their homes. The city said there would be one ambulance and one Polaris off-road vehicle to respond to medical emergencies. The city said it had created landing zones for Lee Flight helicopters if needed.

City Manager Souza said that representatives from FEMA have been to many of the homes on the island and have done a quick assessment of the damage to them. They said that information would be posted in a document on their website. You can find that information by clicking here.

Sanibel city officials are looking into repairing the causeway. In the meantime, they said they are exploring short-term and long-term ferry services that could help bring emergency services to the island until the bridge is fixed. The city has not decided on a ferry service at the time of posting.

Search and rescue operations are still underway on the island. Sanibel officials say rescue crews are checking and, in some cases, double-checking homes to help people find missing loved ones.

The city said roads on the island are 90% clear, and there is enough access for emergency vehicles and services. They ask that residents who return to the island keep debris from their property out of the road so that it doesn’t get in the way of cleanup and recovery operations.

Souza said reclaimed water is being made on the island but said the island’s lifting stations are severely damaged and expects as much as 80% will need to be rebuilt or replaced.

The news for people on Sanibel isn’t all bad. Comcast said it is proactively suspending billing for all Sanibel, Pine Island, and Captiva residents.

City officials said the island will rebuild and is resilient and will come back stronger.

You can watch a replay of the city’s news conference by clicking here or in the player below.

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