Florida’s island dwellers dig out from Ian’s destruction

Oct 4, 2022, 8:05 PM | Updated: Oct 5, 2022, 6:32 pm
Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, ...

Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as floodwaters from Lake Harney and the St. Johns River continue to rise following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

(Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

              Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as floodwaters from Lake Harney and the St. Johns River continue to rise following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Houses are inundated by floodwaters on Mullet Lake Park Road on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as the St. Johns River continues to rise, following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              In this image taken through a window, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour to view the storm-ravaged areas after Hurricane Ian on Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive to tour an area impacted by Hurricane Ian with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as floodwaters from Lake Harney and the St. Johns River continue to rise following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Houses are inundated by floodwaters on Mullet Lake Park Road on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as the St. Johns River continues to rise, following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              In this image taken through a window, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour to view the storm-ravaged areas after Hurricane Ian on Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive to tour an area impacted by Hurricane Ian with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as floodwaters from Lake Harney and the St. Johns River continue to rise following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
            
              Resident Mike Kelley navigates flooded streets in the Mullet Lake neighborhood, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as floodwaters from Lake Harney and the St. Johns River continue to rise following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Houses are inundated by floodwaters on Mullet Lake Park Road on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as the St. Johns River continues to rise, following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Houses are inundated by floodwaters on Mullet Lake Park Road on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Geneva, Fla., as the St. Johns River continues to rise, following historic levels of rainfall from Hurricane Ian last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              In this image taken through a window, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour to view the storm-ravaged areas after Hurricane Ian on Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive to tour an area impacted by Hurricane Ian with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              In this image taken through a window, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour to view the storm-ravaged areas after Hurricane Ian on Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive to tour an area impacted by Hurricane Ian with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talk to people impacted by Hurricane Ian during a tour of the area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
            
              Structural and property damage left in the wake of Hurricane Ian is seen in Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Geneva, Fla., resident Joe Shaw, top, navigates his flooded street, Whitcomb Drive, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, with his friends after Lake Harney in Seminole County crested 8 feet above sea level with historic flooding from Hurricane Ian. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Contractors Miguel Ortiz, left, and Mitchell Brown, take down a waterlogged heavy bag used for boxing, so that apartment resident Janelle Thiel, right, can salvage the bracket used to hang it, after the apartment flooded to waist-height during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Air Force One with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden onboard, prepares to take off for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Geneva, Fla., resident Joe Shaw, top, navigates his flooded street, Whitcomb Drive, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, with his friends after Lake Harney in Seminole County crested 8 feet above sea level with historic flooding from Hurricane Ian. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Residents pick up free perishable food items at a Publix in Pine Island, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Joseph Shoemaker from Medic Corp distributes fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Damaged boats lie grounded between apartment buildings at the Riverwalk complex, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Contractors Miguel Ortiz, left, and Mitchell Brown, take down a waterlogged heavy bag used for boxing, so that apartment resident Janelle Thiel, right, can salvage the bracket used to hang it, after the apartment flooded to waist-height during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Paris Foye, right, and his fiancé Kelly Rice indicate how high flood waters rose during the passage of Hurricane Ian, as they work to sort through their waterlogged possessions to see what is salvageable, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Foye and Rice say the owners of the complex gave ground-floor residents less than 48 hours notice to sort through their damaged possessions and move out, with no guarantee that they will be allowed to return. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Air Force One with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden onboard, prepares to take off for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Geneva, Fla., resident Joe Shaw, top, navigates his flooded street, Whitcomb Drive, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, with his friends after Lake Harney in Seminole County crested 8 feet above sea level with historic flooding from Hurricane Ian. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              Residents pick up free perishable food items at a Publix in Pine Island, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Joseph Shoemaker from Medic Corp distributes fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Damaged boats lie grounded between apartment buildings at the Riverwalk complex, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Toys and personal items lay scattered on the floor of a bedroom, in a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in the rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Contractors Miguel Ortiz, left, and Mitchell Brown, take down a waterlogged heavy bag used for boxing, so that apartment resident Janelle Thiel, right, can salvage the bracket used to hang it, after the apartment flooded to waist-height during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Paris Foye, right, and his fiancé Kelly Rice indicate how high flood waters rose during the passage of Hurricane Ian, as they work to sort through their waterlogged possessions to see what is salvageable, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Foye and Rice say the owners of the complex gave ground-floor residents less than 48 hours notice to sort through their damaged possessions and move out, with no guarantee that they will be allowed to return. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              A contractor cleans personal items from a ground-floor river-front apartment which was flooded during the passage of Hurricane Ian, at the Riverwalk housing complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. According to a neighbor who aided in their rescue and preferred not to be identified, the family with two young children who lived there was trapped inside after flooding from the river burst down their front door, tearing the jam from the wall, and flooded the apartment to waist-height. Neighbors helped them to safety in a nearby second-story unit.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Air Force One with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden onboard, prepares to take off for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
            
              Residents of Pine Island, Fla., leave the island by boat after Hurricane Ian left widespread damage across the island, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Crews work to remove sand that washed onto the pathway in front of 20th St in Virginia Beach, Va., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Sand washed up as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Ian that hit Hampton Roads days before. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
            
              Crews work to remove sand that washed onto the pathway in front of 20th St in Virginia Beach, Va.,  on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Sand washed up as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Ian that hit Hampton Roads days before. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
            
              Using a boat, Geneva, Fla., resident Joe Shaw delivers a TV to his brother on his flooded street, Whitcomb Drive, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, after Lake Harney in Seminole County crested 8 feet above sea level with historic flooding from Hurricane Ian. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
            
              A boat sits on a dock following Hurricane Ian in Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              A power line rests on the ground after Hurricane Ian left behind widespread damage across Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Volunteers from Fuel Relief Fund and Medic Corp distribute fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., free of charge on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Volunteers Joe Lee from Fuel Relief Fund and Jason Duggar from Medic Corp distributes fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Volunteers from Fuel Relief Fund and Medic Corp distribute fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., free of charge on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Joe Lee from Fuel Relief Fund unloads barrels of fuel to be distributed to residents of Pine Island, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)
            
              Volunteers from Fuel Relief Fund and Medic Corps distribute fuel to residents of Pine Island, Fla., free of charge following Hurricane Ian, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)
            
              A resident is assisted from a ferry after returning from Pine Island, Fla., after Hurricane Ian, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)
            
              A residence sits partially submerged in water after Hurricane Ian leaves behind widespread damage across Pine Island, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Scott Clause/The News-Press via AP)

ST. JAMES CITY, Fla. (AP) — Surrounded by Hurricane Ian’s destruction, many residents of one Florida island have stayed put for days without electricity or other resources while hoping the lone bridge to the mainland is repaired.

Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, has been largely cut off from the outside world. The pounding storm damaged the island’s causeway, rendering its towns only accessible by boat or aircraft.

“We feel as a community that if we leave the island — abandon it — nobody is going to take care of that problem of fixing our road in and out,” Pine Island resident Leslie Arias said as small motorboats delivered water and other necessities.

A temporary bridge to span the damaged parts of the causeway would be ready Wednesday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. It will aid in restoring electricity, delivering fuel and supplies, and reopening the island’s supermarket, he said. By Wednesday night, traffic was restricted to official vehicles only.

The governor spoke while visiting Matlacha, a community on its own small island astride the roughly 5-mile (8-kilometer) causeway. On Tuesday, an orange excavator could be seen scooping bucketfuls of earth into a wide gap where the island meets a cement bridge, apparently eroded by the storm. Nearby, part of a damaged building sagged into the water.

Piles of rubble and debris have replaced many of the Pine Island’s homes. Power lines and their wooden poles litter yards and roadways.

The 17-mile-long (27 km) island is bigger than Manhattan but is mostly rural and has no street lights or sandy beaches, according to the island’s civic association. It has about 9,000 year-round residents but the population doubles between Christmas and Easter.

Jay Pick, who has been on the island since May to help his in-laws, said winds from Ian blew the house’s roof off.

“We’re all safe, though,” Pick said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re blessed. Driving around seeing what some people have compared to what we have left, you get that survivor-guilt thing. I’m trying not to. I’m trying to be happy for what we do have left.”

A week after the Category 4 storm hit, the full breadth of the destruction across southwest Florida is still coming into focus. Utility workers pushed to restore power Wednesday, as crews searched for anyone still trapped inside flooded or damaged homes,

The number of storm-related deaths has risen to at least 98 in recent days, 89 of them in Florida. Among the new deaths reported Wednesday by medical examiners across the state were several drownings. One 82-year-old man died after evacuating without his medicine. In hardest-hit Lee County, Florida, the vast majority of people killed by the hurricane were over age 50.

Five people were also killed in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia since Ian made landfall on the Caribbean island Sept. 27, a day before it reached Florida. After roaring northeast across Florida and into the Atlantic, the hurricane made another landfall in South Carolina before pushing into the mid-Atlantic states.

Biden toured some of Florida’s hurricane-ravaged areas on Wednesday, surveying damage by helicopter and then walking on foot alongside DeSantis. The Democratic president and Republican governor pledged to put political rivalries aside to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives.

Biden emphasized at a briefing with local officials that the effort will take months or years.

“The only thing I can assure you is that the federal government will be here until it’s finished,” Biden said.

Jeff Rioux, a general contractor in Fort Myers and a registered Republican, welcomed the president’s visit.

“The world does need to see what happened here,” Rioux said as he mopped up floors and tore out soaked drywall from his flooded house. “At some point you’ve got to put politics aside. People are hurting down here. It’s not right or left, it’s America at the end of the day.”

At a briefing earlier in the day, DeSantis made a point of praising the Federal Emergency Management Agency along with local and state governments, saying coordination has been exceptional.

“I will say, from local, state coordination and FEMA — there’s been less bureaucracy holding us back in this one than probably any one I’ve ever seen,” DeSantis said, referring to previous hurricanes.

The governor also said running water has been restored across much of the affected zone.

Lee County had been without running water since the hurricane passed over. But state Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Wednesday that all 13 of the county’s water treatment plants are pushing water into distribution.

Back on Pine Island, small motorboats have been the only way to bring in supplies since the storm hit. Arias, the resident who chose to stay, said Tuesday that many who remained are supporting each other.

“We have now gathered a lot of resources, not only donations but volunteers as well,” Arias said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see how the community has come together. In every end of the island … there is a family member or a neighbor helping that other neighbor.”

___

Associated Press reporters Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Curt Anderson and Bobby Caina Calvan in Fort Myers, Florida, contributed to this report.

___

For more coverage of Hurricane Ian, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/hurricanes

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

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