Ian destroys part of the Sanibel Causeway and cuts off access to barrier islands

Hurricane Ian destroyed much of the Sanibel Causeway when it hit Florida’s west coast on Wednesday, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,400 people normally live. Both Sanibel and Captiva islands have been cut off from the mainland after the storm washed away at least three sections of the bridge, CBS Miami reported.

Videos from the dam show two sections of the ramp to both bridges washed away, as well as a stretch of road that crossed an island in the middle of the dam. The causeway is the only way vehicles can enter or leave the islands.

Tropical weather
A portion of the damaged Sanibel Causeway seen in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, near Sanibel Island, Fla.

Wilfred Lee / AP

All lanes of the bridge are currently closed and the severity of the closure is listed as “major,” according to Florida officials.

The islands are home to a number of hotels and resorts, and their beaches attract a significant number of tourists each year.

It was unknown how many people on the islands had followed orders to evacuate, but Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller expressed cautious optimism that worst-case scenarios might not have materialized.

No deaths or injuries have been confirmed in the county, and overflights of barrier islands show that “the integrity of the homes is far better than we expected,” Fuller said.

A 2017 City of Sanibel count measured annual bridge traffic over the dam at over 3 million vehicles.

South of Sanibel Island, the historic Naples Pier was destroyed and even the pilings underneath were ripped out as towering waves crashed over the structure. “Right now there is no pier,” said Penny Taylor, a Collier County commissioner.

Meanwhile, a hurricane warning has been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina as Ian, now a tropical storm, is expected to regain strength and become a hurricane again Thursday evening.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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