What happened on Sanibel? The controversy over the evacuation on the island destroyed by Ian

(CNN Spanish) — The evacuation order for Sanibel, did it come too late? Days after Hurricane Ian flattened this dream island in southwest Florida, wiping homes and businesses off the map, some are wondering if the mandate for residents to vacate came in time. This was what happened.

Order of evacuation against the clock

The Sanibel City Council approved a voluntary evacuation warning on Monday night, September 26. Only the next morning, Tuesday the 27th, did a mandatory evacuation order from Lee County arrive on the island. Authorities issued this order a day after neighboring counties told residents in the most flood-prone areas to leave.

Ian made landfall a day later, on Wednesday, September 28, as a category 4 hurricane and, according to official reports, more than half of the cyclone-related deaths occurred in Lee County.

From the mayor to DeSantis, officials defend the decisions made

Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith defended the warnings made to residents. “This storm was an extremely complex storm. We watched this storm and I think everybody did the best they could based on that information,” Smith said when asked if he thought an earlier mandatory evacuation order would have made a difference in Sanibel. “We can’t hold a crystal ball and look back. What we all did was warn, and warn a lot, of what we saw was coming and people can make their own decisions about whether to stay or go.”

He further stated that, once it was known exactly what the situation was like, “there were still plenty of opportunities for people to make the decision” to evacuate as shelters were opened immediately so that people could leave the island and have others. where to go

This is how the heroic rescues are on Sanibel Island after the passage of Ian 3:34

On Sunday, Governor Ron DeSantis also defended the decisions of Lee County officials. “It’s easy to question them after the fact, but they were ready all along,” DeSantis told CNN.

DeSantis echoed comments from some local officials that even after evacuation orders were issued, many people chose to stay. “They informed people and most just didn’t want to do it. That’s the reality,” the governor said.

Officials have also pointed to the fact that Lee County was outside the final forecast “cones” as Ian approached, although the cones represent predictions of the likely location of the storm’s center, not necessarily where the storm will be experienced. increased strength of the hurricane.

“You risk your life trying to evacuate”

From Fort Myers, another area hard hit by Ian, Lee County residents spoke to CNN about the evacuation orders.

“(There are) a lot of lives lost. People didn’t leave the island because if you leave you can’t come back and they’re scared and a lot of them don’t have transportation to get off the island and they don’t have anywhere to go if they leave the island. Shelters were full, there was no hotel, no fuel,” Margie Titus said. “Sometimes you risk your life trying to evacuate and sometimes people decide not to.”

Also, according to Titus, “when you haven’t had a really big storm in a long time you tend to get hurricane amnesia even when there were warnings, extensive warnings.” “People didn’t want to leave, this is their home. This is the only thing some of them know,” he remarked.

Anna Erickson, whose family runs a shrimp business, believes that if the evacuation order had come earlier, more people would have left. “I think this came down on everyone and I don’t think anyone was really prepared for anything.”

Grant Erickson, for his part, said people would not have evacuated even if they had been told earlier because many of the boats are their homes. “They live and work on these tools and they’re not going away,” he explained.

How many evacuated from Sanibel?

Sanibel Fire Chief William Briscoe said Monday that crews had evacuated 1,000 people since Hurricane Ian swept through the island, more than double the number initially reported.

As of Monday, nearly 100 Miami-Dade firefighters were still working in Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island to provide assistance to those “who may be trapped and injured inside their homes” and those in need of evacuation assistance, water and food. Firefighters spent the weekend doing foot and door-to-door reconnaissance to find survivors and transport them to the Sanibel Fire Station, from where helicopters were on standby to make evacuations.

Aerial images show damage caused by Ian on a highway 0:57

Sanibel Fire Chief William Briscoe said every home and point on the island shows damage and officials were completing assessments of which homes were habitable.

“I hate to tell you that there are a lot of places that are not habitable,” he said.

DeSantis said Monday that the National Guard will send crews to Sanibel and the Pine Islands to begin work on restoring power. The governor said it was important that crews get there now and not wait for the bridge to be rebuilt, which could take weeks.

Residents can return to Sanibel on Wednesday…at their own risk

Starting Wednesday, Oct. 5, the city will allow residents to come to the island from 7 a.m. local time until 7 p.m. to appraise their properties, according to City Manager Dana Souza.

Souza said residents will enter at their own risk and the city cannot provide protection. In this regard, he explained that the capacity to respond to fires or medical emergencies is limited and people can easily be injured by debris.

Residents will see signs on their homes telling them if they are habitable or not.

Souza said that before considering returning they should look at the information on the properties online. The city plans to provide photos of each property, as well as information on whether it is considered destroyed or damaged. Officials hope the information will dissuade residents from returning to a debris-strewn island that poses a threat.

With information from Ángela Reyes, Paul P. Murphy, Laura Oliverio and José Manuel Rodríguez

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