Sanibel Island residents thinking about an immediate return — even in two weeks — to the island to inspect their property should heed officials' advice:
"No," City Manager Dan Souza said. "There is not utilities. There is not water. There is not sewer. There is not electricity. And it’s more than spartan."
Souza and Mayor Holly Smith spoke at a news conference Saturday evening from the city's temporary base, The Sanibel meeting room at Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers, with Smith declining to give any sort of timeline for a return.
Smith emphasized it's merely day three since Hurricane Ian, a category four storm, swamped the island, with between 200 and 300 households reporting they sheltered in place.
Souza did not have numbers Saturday night, but he said the Police Chief Bill Dalton estimated another 100 people were evacuated by search and rescue teams.
The confirmed deaths remained at four people.
Search, rescue continues
Souza said the Department of Public Works has cleared most of the main roads so that emergency teams can get into neighborhoods.
"Really making great process," he said, adding that means that emergency vehicles and larger excavation equipment, as well as LCEC, will start work as soon as a barge gets them to the island.
'A happy ending': Daughter reunites with father she feared dead on Sanibel Island
Death toll on Sanibel: Sanibel death toll rises to 4 and 'the island is closed' after Hurricane Ian devastation
He expects National Guard troops to arrive, possibly overnight.
The police and fire departments, along with Urban Search and Rescue teams continued combing the island house by house.
Souza said some of the people who sheltered in place have said they are not ready to leave yet, so some residents remain.
The Department of Publics Works officials also inspected the water and wastewater treatment facilities in Saturday.
Souza said they looked at 32 of 135 lift station panels, and 11 of those were in operation and the rest replaced. Of five fixed generators, three were operational.
Sunday's plans include visiting more lift stations and transmission lines.
"The water plant did not take much water from storm surge," Souza said.. "All the generators are working. Of 15 wells and four or five can go online without repairs.."
He said coupled with 5 million gallons of fresh water in reserve, they can soon reopen city hall on the island and can provide water for first responders and washing hands and facilities.
LCEC officials also toured the island Saturday, inspecting the substation and power lines. He said there wasn't an immediate update.
Souza expected a barge to transport police and fire equipment would arrive overnight, but because of damage to the Sanibel Causeway bridges, they need to find a place to launch it on the mainland side.
Pieces of the bridge appear in the navigational route, and the Army Corps of Engineers is completing a survey.
Once the barge is operational, more work will begin. Souza also said the city would make the barge available to LCEC to bring in equipment until the company could get its own there.
Home, business inspections
Souza said the inspection team will begin work on Monday. The city's IT team is breaking the city into manageable portions and will distribute the inspections between the east and west sides, so that no area is given priority.
"We are working on a plan to return residents to the island," he said, as inspections are complete in certain sections, those residents will receive notification and the city will transport them to, and around, the island.
He and Smith said they hope to allow residents to survey the damage on their property, remove personal items and perhaps remove carpet and drywall to prevent mold.
"We don’t have a date specific, and we don’t have final details," Souza said.
He said officials will supervise the visits and people likely won't be able to remain on the island.
"We know you're anxious to do that," he said.
Smith clarified that when officials talk about residents, they also mean business owners.
"Everything we talk about with residents, applies with business," she said. "They are part of our community."
Finding out your time for inspection
Souza said the city will communicate with homeowners and businesses as to when they may visit the island. The best way is to sign up for notifications through mysanibel.com. Click on "Sanibel online" icon, then click "I want to ..." and then sign up for the alerts.
He said property owners will have an option to designate a representative to inspect the property, but those details are forthcoming.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Sanibel Island residents told to stay away after Hurricane Ian