Land access restored to 1 of 2 hard-hit Florida islands

Hurricane Ian

The bridge leading from Fort Myers to Pine Island, Fla., is seen heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Pine Island, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Due to the damage, the island can only be reached by boat or air. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(NewsNation) — The state of Florida restored land access to a cut-off island Wednesday, but residents of another will have to wait up to several weeks before they can drive home from the mainland.

Construction crews completed work Wednesday on a temporary bridge to Pine Island, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Ian last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Twitter the bridge work was completed in just three days.

“Happy to have the state step in and help get our Pine Island residents back on their feet,” he said.

For those living on Sanibel Island, the restoration work will take longer. A portion of the Sanibel Causeway broke off, and DeSantis said during a news conference the infrastructure damage on the island was worse than that in Fort Myers.

“It’s going to require rebuilding power infrastructure,” DeSantis said. “I think we need to get a lot of people on that island.”

The state transportation department has solicited bids for a temporary bridge replacement, which it anticipates to be accessible by the end of October. The causeway sustained damage in multiple places and will require more work than the Pine Island bridge, DeSantis said.

The governor spoke while visiting Matlacha, a community on its own small island astride the roughly 5-mile causeway that connects Pine Island with the mainland. On Tuesday, an orange excavator could be seen scooping bucketfuls of earth into a wide gap where the island meets a cement bridge, apparently eroded by the storm.

Piles of rubble and debris have replaced many of Pine Island’s homes. Power lines and their wooden poles litter yards and roadways.

The 17-mile-long island is bigger than Manhattan but is mostly rural and has no street lights or sandy beaches, according to the island’s civic association. It has about 9,000 year-round residents but the population doubles between Christmas and Easter.

Currently, residents of Sanibel Island are being ferried back and forth via boat or air. Survivors have shared their stories of survival with NewsNation, showing their fight to stay alive during and after the storm as they waited for rescue crews to evacuate them.

“You guys aren’t going to believe this,” Jennifer O’Neill said in a self-recorded video that showed Ian’s catastrophic winds and rain.

O’Neill was stranded on the second floor of her Sanibel Island home. She recorded the storm’s devastation when she realized the storm was going to be worse than she had originally thought.

“I did the video because I didn’t know if the next morning they were going to find my body,” O’Neill told NewsNation.

President Joe Biden visited the state Wednesday to survey the damage and said “it’s going to take years” to recover and rebuild.

The state medical examiner’s office has confirmed 89 Floridians died as a result of the storm, though other counts from local officials in both Florida and other states have the death toll well past 100.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 1998 - 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. | All Rights Reserved.

Trending on NewsNation

Elections 2022

More Elections 2022