Hurricane Ian damages Fort Myers Sanibel Island

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Aerial photos of some of the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Ian this week on Friday provided a better look at the widespread damage and devastation the storm has left in its wake.

WFLA’s Eagle 8 communications helicopter flew from Tampa to the Fort Myers area Friday afternoon to survey the damage. Photojournalist Jim Hockett, who formerly worked and lived in Fort Myers, stood behind the camera as the helicopter flew over Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.

Sanibel Dam

Portions of the Sanibel Causeway, the only road to and from Sanibel Island, were completely destroyed by the storm earlier this week.

“You can see where the roadway just completely buckled,” Hockett said as he flew over the breached area of ​​the bridge. “And then when you come down the dam like that, it’s just completely washed out. It’s just – gone. The bridge is completely gone here. The stakes are gone, the deck is gone. There is no road at all.”

Views from above revealed the massive gaps between the remaining portions of the dam. It also showed where sand was washed out from under the dam when the area was inundated with water.

“That’s the power of the storm surge,” said meteorologist Rebecca Barry. “We talked about as Hurricane Charley approached that the bridges over the Tampa Bay area could be washed away. Unfortunately, Surge can.”

Captiva and Sanibel Islands

Storm surges also caused huge washouts along the beach on the islands of Captiva and Sanibel.

“They’re all along the coast now, so the landscape of the beach has completely changed,” Barry explained.

As Eagle 8 flew over the beach, Hockett spotted a group of about eight people trying to leave the island in a private boat because they can’t get out on the road once the causeway has eroded.

“Looks like this is currently the only way to get in or out of the island, either by helicopter or by boat,” he said.

Barry pointed out the dangers of boating in the area so soon after the storm.

“There will be a ton of debris in the water. The shallows will have changed, the sandbars will have changed,” she explained. “So they’re going to take it really slow.”

Fort Myers Beach

Eagle 8 and Hockett next flew over Fort Myers Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by the flood. One of the first things they saw was the destroyed Fort Myers Beach Pier.

“This is what remains of the pier at Fort Myers Beach. It’s completely gone, all that’s left are the stakes,” Hockett said.

Buildings – both homes and businesses – were also destroyed by the storm. Other buildings, mostly newer, appeared to have avoided significant damage.

“This is a great example of the new building codes,” said Barry. “See the house that looks almost untouched and unscathed? This is a new hurricane code construction. And the older house next door, which was not adhered to the same code during its construction, is almost entirely gone.”

Downtown Fort Myers Beach was also decimated, with some restaurants and businesses completely obliterated.

“There should be a lot of shops, restaurants, and people having fun — and enjoying their vacation,” Hockett said. “And now it’s just gone. It’s just been wiped out. You can see the pilings from the remains of the buildings. All that is left here at the moment is total destruction.”

Areas near downtown where houses once stood were also badly damaged, with many houses completely destroyed. Debris was strewn everywhere, probably washed up when the storm surge came through.

“It’s not beachfront, it’s a few blocks from the beach,” Hockett explained. “So it’s not just houses on the beach that are being destroyed, it’s a few blocks down. Here you can see – there should be houses here, buildings here, but there is nothing left but the pilings. The storm surge just came with the strong winds and just blew everything off its foundation.”

The news helicopter spotted clean-up operations, including bulldozers attempting to clear sand from the roads to allow other equipment access to the area.

Fort Myers Marinas

One of the more harrowing images from the Fort Myers Beach area, showing the force behind Hurricane Ian, came from a marina with large shrimp and fishing boats.

“These are huge boats… just thrown on top of each other,” Hockett said. “That gives you an idea of ​​how strong that storm surge was, how high that storm surge was, and how strong those winds were, because that lifted all these boats up and just dumped them right here.”

At another nearby marina, yachts were thrown ashore and boats overturned in the water. Some boats even landed on nearby houses.

“They have boats in their houses,” Hockett said. “These boats are now at this RV park.”

“You can’t even count all the boats that are here,” Hockett said while flying over one of the marinas. “You can’t even tell what’s under all those boats. There are so many boats here, so many fishing boats, you can’t tell what’s underneath.” Hurricane Ian damages Fort Myers Sanibel Island

Russell Falcon

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