Gov. DeSantis says Hurricane Ian left North Port with worst standing water in Florida

While Hurricane Ian eviscerated Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, the worst standing water left from the Category 4 storm is in North Port, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

After taking a short airboat ride through some flooded neighborhoods near the city's Sumter Boulevard exit on Sunday afternoon, DeSantis said North Port's standing water is the worst he's seen in the state. Even inland in the Fort Myers area, flooding in those neighborhoods had subsided by Friday morning, he said.

"I know on the news people will show Fort Myers Beach -- terrible, totally catastrophic, and that's obviously significant -- but this storm had a really broad impact throughout the state of Florida," DeSantis said.

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The governor visited North Port on Sunday to speak with local officials and call attention to the flooding, which reached record levels following Hurricane Ian. Flooding got so bad that a portion of I-75 had to be closed temporarily to deal with rising water levels. 

Rainfall from the hurricane spilled into creeks and streams that serve as tributaries to the larger Myakka River, causing it to rise to as high as 12.7 feet and flood many of North Port's roadways. The water levels are slowly dropping, according to the National Weather Service, but will likely remain at "major" levels above 10.5 ft. until early Wednesday.

Governor Ron DeSantis takes questions from the media following an airboat tour of flooding in some North Port neighborhoods on Sunday.
Governor Ron DeSantis takes questions from the media following an airboat tour of flooding in some North Port neighborhoods on Sunday.

Even though flooding like this has never happened in North Port before, some city residents said they feel forgotten, overshadowed by the catastrophes taking place in other parts of the state. North Port residents who are used to some flooding have said they've never seen anything like this.

DeSantis said by being there, he's drawing attention to the situation.

"I was in Hardee County yesterday and we're going to go to DeSoto, and obviously we're here in North Port, stressing to people that this had broad impacts. It's not just where the almost (Category) 5 winds hit," DeSantis said. "This was a massive, slow-moving storm that dumped a historic amount of water on our communities, and places like North Port have produced historic flooding. That's in some ways a more difficult problem than even the wind damage."

Governor Ron DeSantis after disembarking from an airboat that took him and First Lady Casey DeSantis to some of the flooded neighborhoods in North Port on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Governor Ron DeSantis after disembarking from an airboat that took him and First Lady Casey DeSantis to some of the flooded neighborhoods in North Port on Sunday, Oct. 2.

After Ian left the area, rainfall that went into creeks and streams started to make its way into the Myakka, Ross Giarratana, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said. Eventually, all the tributaries feed into the main river, which is why it takes days after a hurricane for the flood level to rise.

"There's just that really long lag period between the departure of a storm, especially a storm like this where you have such a large area of heavy rainfall across multiple different river basins," Giarratana said. "A large volume of water, if you will, has to go through smaller creeks and streams and into larger rivers, like the Myakka."

It takes a while for the flooding to subside, especially in Florida where the ground is flat, Giarratana said. In the meantime, the city of North Port has designated Venice High School as a voluntary evacuation center -- residents can get there by car if they're able or by a bus that leaves every hour from George Mullen Activity Center at 1602 Kramer Way.

"Neighbors are used to flooding, but this is at a level they've never experienced before," city spokesman Jason Bartolone said. "And people who moved here, who have never lived in Florida before, now they've been through what was almost a Category 5 (storm)."

Power outages continue to be an issue for North Port residents. About 36% of Sarasota County residents affected by power outages still don't have electricity, according to Florida Power & Light.

FPL estimates that 95% of customers who experienced outages in south county after Ian should have power back by Sunday, Oct. 9, although most will have it back by Oct. 7.

The city is still working on responding to hundreds of emergency calls, Bartolone said. Some residents in flooded areas who can't get out are calling the city hoping food and water can be delivered to them, which is not possible, Bartolone said. Anyone surrounded by flooding who is running out of food should call 911. Then they should evacuate to either a shelter or a friend's house.

Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and Sarasota Sheriff Kurt Hoffman took an airboat tour of flooded North Port neighborhoods Sunday.
Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and Sarasota Sheriff Kurt Hoffman took an airboat tour of flooded North Port neighborhoods Sunday.

"If you're in your home running out of supplies, that's an emergency situation," he said. "You need to get out."

Food, water and ice were available Sunday at San Pedro Catholic Church at 14380 Tamiami Trail.

Around 3 p.m. Sunday at the church, a line of cars curved all the way around the building. That's nothing, volunteer Jenny Hornung said -- when the donation center opened at 8 a.m. Sunday a line of cars wrapped around the church and all the way back to North Port Boulevard. Members of the Florida National Guard were also onsite helping with the handouts.

Hornung, who lives near University Parkway in Sarasota, said that she registered with the county to volunteer in any way she could. Her house was mostly fine, so she wanted to help people who weren't so lucky.

"People are still trapped. It's devastating," she said. "People come through this lane and cry. Some don't have a home they can go back to."

Several residents thanked volunteers as they loaded up their cars with boxes of food, bags of ice and bottles of water.

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"You're all angels," said Kathy Chappina, who now lives in North Port after previously moving from Fort Myers. The house she lived in for 18 years there had been destroyed.

Chappina was a little luckier in North Port -- she lost power, but she didn't have any flooding in her neighborhood. She's happy to be alive.

"This guy was a beast," she said. "Charley was nothing."

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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gov. Ron DeSantis: Hurricane Ian left North Port with standing water