A stunning aerial video shows homes, bridges, roads and trees flattened across portions of Lee County in southwest Florida Thursday morning after Hurricane Ian made landfall nearby as a Category 4 storm, bringing with it 150 mph winds and a powerful 10-foot storm surge to the area.
The video was taken during an aerial damage assessment by Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who said he was at a loss for words after touring the storm’s aftermath.
“When you look at Fort Myers Beach in particular, there’s no words to describe it, it does look like a large tornado did go though it. Homes that would stand tall, buildings, are completely gone,” he said at an afternoon press conference.
Another video taken on the ground of Fort Myers Beach shows buildings blown out and the promenade covered with debris and downed palm trees.
Marceno said rescue efforts are still underway, with dozens of rescues made in waist-high water. He instructed residents to stay inside to make way for rescue and cleanup efforts. There are also ongoing threats to the public outside, including downed power lines, debris, floodwaters and limited traffic enforcement. The city of Fort Myers issued a stay-at-home order and threatened violators with citations.
“We don’t want you to be out and get hurt and we also want you to stay clear so we can properly get out there and access what we have,” he said.
Residents are also facing a countywide boil water advisory due to failures with the water treatment system, though local officials have acknowledged that many are unable to boil water due to a lack of power.
Nearly 89% of Lee County residents remained without electricity as of Thursday afternoon, according to online outage tracker PowerOutage.US.
Local energy suppliers have said that parts of their electrical infrastructure will need to be rebuilt and not merely restored. Charlotte County, directly to Lee County’s north, has also been described by Florida’s governor as “off the grid” due to widespread power outages.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved a major disaster declaration for Florida, making federal funding available for residents in multiple counties, including Lee and Charlotte.
“We’re going to do our best to build Florida back as quickly as possible,” he said after attending a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing Thursday afternoon.