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Grim news as Lee County officials provide update on Hurricane Ian

 From left, Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane, Lee County Manager Roger DesJarlais, and Benjamin Abes, Director, Public Safety, Emergency Response and Communications at Lee County, talk about Hurricane Ian and impact on Lee County Wednesday.
Braun, Michael
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From left, Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane, Lee County Manager Roger DesJarlais, and Benjamin Abes, Director, Public Safety, Emergency Response and Communications at Lee County, talk about Hurricane Ian and impact on Lee County Wednesday.

Lee County officials talked about possible deaths, a case of looting, a curfew being put into place, and a possible "missing" hotel during an update on Hurricane Ian late Wednesday afternoon.

It was a grim assessment late Wednesday.

The impacts of Hurricane Ian undoubtedly caused extensive infrastructure damage, likely deaths, sparked some looting, and resulted in the activation of a county-wide curfew as of 6 p.m.

"Our community has been, in some respects, decimated," Roger DesJarlais, the Lee County manager, said during a briefing Wednesday at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center on Ortiz Avenue. "There is tremendous damage on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach."

DesJarlais alluded to the loss of power for 80 percent of FPL customers in Lee County and 75 percent of LCEC customers.

Frustrating the situation, he said, was the fact that no crews from any entity, county government, law enforcement or utilities, could get out to check.

"We don't know yet," he said. "The storm is too strong. We don't know yet, the extent of damage to our local infrastructure."

The county manager conceded that there was likely extensive infrastructure damage, roads, bridges and the like.

"This is going to be a very difficult, trying time for the next couple months," he said.

Additionally, there will be no concerted rescue efforts until the storm has completely passed and conditions are safe.

County Commissioner Kevin Ruane said rescue forces would not be placed in harm's way.

"My heart goes out to them," he said of people possibly needing rescue. "We will try to help them as soon as we can. We will get to them."

Ruane, responding to a question about the barrier islands, said he had received reports of "a couple hotels that are gone."

DeJarlais also commented on the curfew and the crime that prompted it.

"Earlier today, when law enforcement was unable to respond because of weather conditions ... there was a break-in on Cleveland Avenue ... and there was looting and there was a group of people, don't know a lot about it yet," DesJarlais said.

He added that apparently it was a gas station that was hit, prompting a request from the city for a curfew. The crime also produced talks with Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and other county and city officials about enacting the curfew.

DesJarlais said the curfew would be in place "until further notice," but there was a 48-hour limit mentioned.

The curfew includes unincorporated Lee County and all cities with the exception of Estero at this time, he said, because Estero officials could not be reached.

He said there will be exceptions — work, health care, grocery shopping, school — and common sense will be employed. However, he stressed looting and violence would not be tolerated.

DesJarlais was also asked about deaths.

"We do not have an estimate yet," he said. "It's reasonable to think, given all the conditions we've experienced for the last 12 hours or so, that there could be some fatalities but we just don't have that information yet."

Desjarlais also said anyone who finds themselves in need of housing can still go to one of the 14 shelters being operated by Lee County.

He said there were some 4,000 people in those shelters and there was room for up to 40,000.

Ben Abes, Director, Public Safety, Emergency Response and Communications at Lee County, talked about conditions making it it impossible to respond to emergency situations.

"We need the public to know we are receiving and tracking 911 calls and engaging with every caller." he said, adding the calls are being prioritized so a response can be made as soon as conditions allow. "We are aware of a number of calls of people who are stranded due to high water."

Abes cited high winds and flooding as threatening situations that could put rescue forces into jeopardy.

"This is a scary situation. We urge you not to panic," he said. "We are going to get through this together."

DesJarlais also mentioned that this hurricane produced more tidal surges than previous hurricanes.

"It appears that this would be our time to endure that," he said.

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Michael Braun
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