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Sanibel Island, Lee County facing impacts from Hurricane Ian

(FORT MYERS, Fla.) — Areas within Lee County, including Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, are facing major damage in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Sanibel, a barrier island outside Fort Myers that is home to fewer than 7,000 residents, faced the brunt of the storm as it made landfall Wednesday afternoon. The island is connected to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed the bridge was damaged and is no longer passable.

The Sanibel Causeway and the Matlacha Pass Bridge, which connects nearby Pine Island to the mainland in Cape Coral, will both likely need structural rebuilds due to the storm, DeSantis said.

A video posted by Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno Thursday afternoon showed continued flooding across Lee County as well as destruction to roads, including bridges that appear partially sunken.

“I anticipate there will likely be other bridges that have suffered damage, but once bridges are inspected and determined to be safe, they will be reopened as soon as possible,” DeSantis said.

A group of 100 engineers are onsite in Southwest Florida to do bridge inspections, the governor said. President Joe Biden said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell spoke with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass on Thursday to discuss ways the administration can support the county in the aftermath of Ian.

The administration said it would assist with search and rescue efforts, power restoration, helping to address challenges faced by local hospitals and problems presented by damage to roads and bridges, according to a statement from the White House.

Lee County is contending with a massive amount of flooding. Officials believe flooding on the barrier island will recede Thursday but will recede more slowly inland, DeSantis said.

Beaches in the area were also destroyed and images show destruction caused by the forceful movement of boats and floating vehicles.

Seven people were rescued in the area of Fort Myers and Tampa on Wednesday night by the U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer Ayla Hudson told ABC News.

Marceno said Wednesday night it was clear the area had been hit very hard and there were reports of buildings being compromised. A curfew was enacted at 6 p.m. but officials were unable to enforce it.

Storm surge was a major concern with this hurricane due to the movement and conditions in the area. It is likely that some areas in southwest Florida had storm surge higher than 12 feet.

Hurricane Ian initially made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa. At that point, it was a Category 4 storm, with winds around 150 mph. That landfall occurred about 20 miles west northwest of Fort Myers and 20 miles west southwest of Punta Gorda, which was struck by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The extent of the damage is not yet known as towns wait for the storm to fully pass and for floodwaters to recede. A hurricane warning was issued for the entire coast of South Carolina as Ian moves north, with the National Hurricane Center anticipating another landfall, this time near Charleston.

ABC News’ Alexandra Faul, Justin Gomez and Victoria Arancio contributed to this report.

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