On Thursday night, dozens of people remained stranded, according to Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith. At least five sections of the Sanibel Causeway – which connects the barrier islands, including Sanibel and Captiva, to the mainland – were washed away by the storm, Lee County officials said. (Lee County includes Fort Myers in addition to Sanibel and Captiva islands and Cape Coral.)
Twelve people were rescued off Sanibel Island with injuries and about 40 people were rescued without injuries, the mayor told CNN on Thursday. Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza reported the two fatalities.
When asked if the city is currently livable, the mayor said, “Frankly, no.”
Kim Carman was among those who left ahead of the storm. She has been staying in Fort Myers since, and doesn’t expect to be back on Sanibel Island – where she was preparing to move into a new condo in a matter of days – for several weeks.
“It’s total devastation. I never dreamed I’d see anything like this in my lifetime. Especially on Sanibel,” Carman told CNN’s Erin Burnett Thursday night. “You look at it and it does not look real, it is just so overwhelming.”
“I don’t think any of us have totally processed it yet,” she said, adding many people are now facing “total financial devastation” after losing everything in the storm.
Some rescue teams were transported by helicopter to the islands, where they went door-to-door checking on residents, according to Florida State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis. Florida’s National Guard was assisting in the efforts, Patronis added.
An estimated 6,400 people lived in the City of Sanibel as of April 2021, per the US Census Bureau. The islands are home to a number of hotels and resorts, as their beaches draw a significant amount of tourists each year.
A 2017 City of Sanibel count measured annual bridge traffic over the causeway at over 3 million vehicles.
Search and rescue operations continue
Lee County officials were assessing damage and also conducting search and rescue operations, Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said Thursday.