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Hurricane Ian search and rescue efforts persist on Sanibel and Captiva

An FWC Officer assists a recently rescued Captiva Island residents with bags as they arrive at the Port Sanibel Marina, Sept. 29, 2022.
Tara Calligan
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An FWC Officer assists a recently rescued Captiva Island residents with bags as they arrive at the Port Sanibel Marina, Sept. 29, 2022.

It is currently unknown how many people remain stranded on the islands in the wake of the near-Category 5 Hurricane Ian.

Update Sept. 30, 2022

The U.S. Coast Guard has organized a ferry operation now underway to help Sanibel residents from the island to the mainland. The boat departs from Sanibel Boat Ramp, near the Causeway, approximately every 90 minutes to two hours.

The boat can carry 30-40 passengers each trip to Port Comfort, also known as Port Sanibel Marina. A bus will transport passengers to Lee County shelters.

The ferry operation will continue as long as the need remains and the boat is available. The operation began this afternoon and will cease at 7 p.m. Sept. 30, 2022.

The devastation Hurricane Ian wrought on Sanibel and Captiva is almost immeasurable at this point as island residents, families, business owners, and emergency crews attempt to assess catastrophic damages and rescue the unknown number of people still trapped there.

Edward Zarick, firefighter with Sanibel Police and Fire & Rescue, explains how search and rescue efforts are working now.

“Right now, we're just trying to get people evacuated off the island that stayed behind, so we're bringing them in by boat, getting here and then trying to get them from here to somewhere they can contact somebody," said Zarick.

 Edward Zarick, firefighter with Sanibel Fire and Rescue, overseeing search and rescue efforts at the Port Sanibel Marina.
Tara Calligan
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Edward Zarick, firefighter with Sanibel Fire and Rescue, overseeing search and rescue efforts at the Port Sanibel Marina.

"Because we have no cell service, we're trying to get ambulances and buses to bus people from here to maybe a shelter. That's what we're trying to do now.

I would just say if you're on the island and you need help, try to get a hold of somebody. We're going to be out there looking for everybody, going through house to house. So, we recommend getting off the island.

You can't stay there forever. This is going to be a long process of getting resources back on the island. And right now there's unfortunately, there no emergency services out there. But we're out there searching for them, so let's get them off the island and let’s get them to safety.”

Communication to or from Sanibel or Captiva is nearly impossible right now. Some on the islands still are unaware that the Sanibel Causeway bridge – the only way to access the mainland – is unusable.

 Sanibel Island Causeway Bridge aerial assessment imagery collected on Sept 29, 2022
NOAA satellites
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Sanibel Island Causeway Bridge aerial assessment imagery collected on Sept 29, 2022

“As of now, from what I know, two portions of the Causeway have been washed away, so it's completely inaccessible by any type of vehicle," said Zarick. "Right now it's just air, aircraft, helicopters and boats getting people off.

Who knows how long it's gonna take to rebuild that? So we can't, we can't get ambulances out there, can't get police cars, can't get fire trucks out there.”

Zarick explains that Sanibel Fire & Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife and volunteers are assisting with recovery efforts.

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Tara Calligan