The mayor of a Florida island that was ripped apart by Hurricane Ian has penned an emotional letter to residents, saying “Our lives and our island have been forever changed.”
Sanibel Island is cut off after the only bridge that connects it and Captiva to the mainland bore the brunt of the historic hurricane and had sections ripped out.
“I am struggling to find the words to convey my feelings, as I am sure most of us are as we look to the past four days. All our lives and our island have been forever changed. What we do tomorrow and the days and months ahead will redefine and strengthen our community,” wrote Mayor Holly Smith.
The damage was discovered on Thursday morning to the bridge, which runs between Sanibel Island and the Fort Meyers area, right near where the centre of the storm made landfall.
It is currently unclear how many people may be on the islands, which are home to a small community, without road access to the mainland.
“I know how much we want to get back on our island and to our homes and businesses. Please be prepared that we do not know what that will look like. Images we are receiving and those you are likely seeing show the gravity of conditions. I ask for your patience and I know how difficult that may be,” added the mayor.
“The job ahead of all of us is very tough. We are heart sick and devastated, but our community will prove to be so much stronger than Ian. Our island and our community needs us more than ever.”
A photo of the damage shows a major chunk of the road collapsed into the water. The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that the road leading up to the bridge on the mainland has also been ripped apart, with chunks of pavement strewn about.
Footage from a traffic cam on Sanibel Island on Wednesday showed a rapid surge of floodwaters at an intersection in the middle of the island, quickly covering the road and inundating nearby buildings.
Sanibel and Captiva islands were under evacuation orders ahead of the storm, though some people may have stayed behind.
The hurricane has also damaged a nearby bridge to Pine Island, another island off the coast of the Fort Myers area, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday.
Hurricane Ian made landfall mid-afternoon on Wednesday just north of the islands, with extreme rain, winds and storm surge continuing late into the night.
The storm hit as a strong Category 4 hurricane, on the cusp of Category 5, with sustained wind speeds as high as 150 miles per hour (241 kilometres per hour).
Severe damage has been reported across southwestern Florida, but officials are still discovering the extent of the damage as the weather finally starts to clear. So far, at least five deaths have been confirmed in Lee County, home to Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
President Biden has declared a major disaster in Florida.
Ian has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it makes its way across Florida, bringing severe weather to a wide swath of the state. Dangerous conditions are now expected for parts of Georgia and South Carolina as the storm turns back inland.