In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, South Florida continues to discover the extent of the damage Governor Ron DeSantis has called “historic.” More than 2.6 million homes are without electricity. And according to Joe Biden, the hurricane could have caused many victims.

With our Miami correspondent, David Thomson.

During the passage of the hurricane, the rescue services received thousands of calls for help from residents who had decided not to follow the evacuation order. Some were trapped in their homes by the sudden rise in the water level, up to four meters in some places.

Destruction and death

But these calls went unanswered because it was too dangerous even for first responders to go out during the hurricane. Authorities now fear finding many victims in the most devastated areas, such as the cities of Fort Myers, population 80,000, and Naples, population 20,000. So far 12 victims have been reported.

On ABC, the Lee County sheriff said he expected hundreds of deaths, but could not confirm any hard numbers. “We’ve never had a flood like this,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said, suggesting it was too early for a human toll.

Material damage is also likely to be high and repairs to take time. The governor estimated that in Fort Myers and Naples the entire electrical network will have to be rebuilt. In these two counties, boats crashed into homes, trees were uprooted, power poles and signs were downed, and much infrastructure was destroyed.

Hurricane Ian spent just a few hours over southwest Florida.

It will take months to clean up the damage. Maybe more time. And part of the destruction will not even be able to retreat.

From the uprooted trees to the destroyed signs, the traffic lights strewn over the roads and some buildings simply in ruins, the impact could be seen everywhere and nothing was spared. The only difference between one place and another was the extent of the damage.

“We will get through this,” said Sanibel, Fla., Deputy Mayor Richard Johnson. “And we will come out stronger than we were.”

Perhaps, but it will require a huge transformation from cosmetic to vital.

Fort Myers Beach is just destroyed. Businesses are gone. Obviously, there are no more jobs, at least temporarily. Cleanup efforts will take weeks and will almost certainly have to precede any rebuilding efforts.

“All of our staff are safe, and although the restaurant sustained incredible damage, the structure of the building is intact,” said the owners of Nervous Nellie’s, a seafood restaurant on the beach. “We hope to get out of this and come back stronger than ever.”

Across the region — Naples, Fort Myers, Sanibel — the extent of the damage is impossible to ignore. Along Federal Highway 41, the region’s main highway, countless signs outside establishments are damaged, broken or simply gone. The street poles are bent, unresisting from the winds and Ian’s force. Doors on storage units were left crooked, and belongings inside were scattered everywhere. Most of the traffic lights are not working, and in some cases the wires were left hanging over the streets.

In one case, a road sign giving directions to Interstate 75 was crushed by an electronic sign warning drivers of a lane closure.

“I’ve seen some things,” said Clark Manchin, a construction project manager, as he surveyed the damage. “But I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Patience was running out fast. A 7-Eleven employee asked shoppers who filled the store for her. Please, no $20 bills. Small bills only. “If I run out of change we will have to close.” There was no gas or hot water, and with no running water, no coffee or toilets.

“I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have,” said Mark Crow of Naples. “I didn’t stock up. I didn’t cover my windows. It is a disaster. It’s bad”.

Fortunately, most of the damage was simply cosmetic. A 150-foot (50-meter) high, 250-yard (220-meter) long protective netting at a Top Golf facility in Fort Myers was destroyed, flapping in the afternoon breeze, a short distance from a tattered American flag. who stood on top of the complex’s office. At Florida Gulf Coast University, bleachers that once stood on the side of a football field were left in the middle of the field, crushing one of the goals.

Other damage was much worse. At a trailer park in Fort Myers, debris from a destroyed golf cart floated in puddled water Thursday, long after the storm had passed. Electrical cables and the poles that supported them blocked the entrance to the place. In that same street, a building that was being built but collapsed, leaving the ground littered with destroyed wood.

Damage assessment and cleanup are just beginning.

“We have to be patient,” Sanibel Councilman John Henshaw said. “We must start to see where we are going to stay and live for a good time. I don’t know how long it is. We will know more as the process progresses.”

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