Blurred by the effects of Hurricane Ian, parts of southwestern Florida are still clearing the debris of widespread destruction a month after the monster storm made landfall.
After Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida on September 28, it devastated entire regions with strong Category 4 winds and terrifying storm surges in places like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island.
Sanibel Island Mayor Holly Smith told ABC News that so far decontamination and recovery has been a slow and arduous process.
Recent images of the area hardest hit by the massive storm show the scale of work remaining to pave the way for reconstruction.
A photo from Fort Myers Beach shows piles of debris remaining between the foundations torn apart by winds in excess of 150 miles per hour. Lined with restaurants and businesses, the area used to be frequented by tourists and locals alike.
The amount of work done so far, especially the speed of the temporary repair of the Sanibel Island causeway, “is nothing short of a miracle,” Smith said. The open causeway has allowed residents, business owners and authorized clean-up workers to access the island and investigate the damage, Smith said.
The destruction of Sanibel Island, a bastion island off the coast of Fort Myers Beach and Pine Island, was “extensive,” Smith said. The electricity grid has been “broken” and water is flowing, but the sewage system is not functioning optimally, she added.
The mayor remains in his home on Sanibel Island, sticking to a few rooms that are mostly powered by small generators, she said. As she surveys the island, which is undergoing debris removal and restoration work, she sees apartment buildings that have been completely swept away, mountains of rubble, and completely destroyed houses.
Reconstruction will take years, not months, Smith said. But there are already signs that life is returning to the island.
One grocery store, Jerry’s Foods on Periwinkle Way, is up and running, says Smith. From kindergarten through her eighth grade, she added that one school relocated to another in Lee County.
“We are determined to get together again and build this Sanibel again,” she said.
Coastal homes and trailer parks were also destroyed by water rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico during the storm.
Clean-up crews were seen using forklifts to move large pieces of drywall, building foundations, and furniture into trash cans.
One of the area’s most famous landmarks, the Fort Myers Beach pier, is also in the process of being rebuilt after a storm pushed the land and seawater fell over the structure.
At least 127 people were killed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, according to local officials. After Ian died, the largest urban search and rescue operation in Florida’s history was conducted to find survivors.
The total economic damage from Hurricane Ian could reach up to $75 billion, according to a forecast released earlier this month by Enki Research, a data company that studies the economic impact of storms.