Hurricane Ian has left an impact on more than just Southwest Florida


Abby Malloy

One of many semi trucks flipped over in Cape Coral as a result of Hurricane Ian.

Hurricane Ian’s unpredictable path and constantly changing cones of impact:

Originally aiming for north of Southwest Florida, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Sanibel and Cayo Costa Wednesday afternoon as a category four hurricane. With the National Hurricane Center warning of “life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding,” Hurricane Ian has been one of the most, if not the most, destructive storm to make landfall in Southwest Florida ever. 

With sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour, Hurricane Ian’s path was one of the most challenging to predict. Most spaghetti maps and potential cones of impact had ranges all throughout the west coast of Florida, and the place of impact was nearly impossible to predict until Hurricane Ian made contact with the shores. 

Because of the constantly changing cones of impact, communities that evacuated early on may not have moved to locations with less impact, as Hurricane Ian is expected to cut across the state of Florida and impact central cities, like Orlando, Thursday afternoon through Friday morning. 

Noted by the National Hurricane Center’s 5 A.M. advisory Thursday morning, Central Florida has seen a record amount of flooding from newly downgraded Tropical Storm Ian. With current predictions having the storm impact almost the entire eastern coast of the United States, Tropical Storm Ian’s impact will reach more than just Southwest Florida. Current tracks are predicting that Tropical Storm Ian will make landfall along the coast of South Carolina anywhere from Friday afternoon to early Saturday morning, as weather channels such as Fox35 and NBC2 work to update the public about the next course of impact.

48 hours after impacting Southwest Florida, Hurricane Ian struck a blow to South Carolina as a category one storm Friday afternoon. Initial reports of destruction see flooding in coastal areas, but nothing compared to the impact the coastal cities in Florida took. 

“There is damage, but we will dig out of this as we always do,” said Mark Stevens, director of tourism for Georgetown County, to the New York Times. “We’re accustomed to hurricane season and what water can bring.”


Strength of Hurricane Ian:

What was known as Tropical Depression Nine over the weekend of September 24th and 25th, quickly intensified into one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States, becoming named Hurricane Ian.

The storm strengthened to hurricane categorization Monday morning, and continued to intensify throughout the week. Monday evening, Hurricane Ian became a category two, making its way toward Cuba and headed straight for the east coast of Florida. 

Hurricane Ian was predicted to hit Southwest Florida as a category three hurricane; however, after continuing to strengthen Monday and Tuesday, it became a category four hurricane with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour, two miles per hour short of being a category five hurricane. 

The hurricane impacted Cuba Tuesday morning as a category three, and hurtled toward Florida directly afterwards. 

Lee and Charlotte counties, along with parts of Collier, received the worst of the storm Wednesday, September 28th. Beginning in the morning with stronger wind gusts and rainfall turned into one of the most powerful storms to have ever impacted Florida. 

Originally moving at a slow speed of nine miles per hour, Hurricane Ian’s speed slowed even more after making landfall to eight miles per hour. Because of this slow travel speed, places of impact were affected by Ian’s wind and storm surge for hours, with places like Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach hit with record levels of storm surge.

Impact in South Carolina didn’t nearly have as large of an impact in Southwest Florida. As a category one storm on landfall, coastal cities of South Carolina such as Myrtle Beach and Charleston received flooding and wind damage. 

At least three piers in Myrtle Beach have washed away, and the shores have sustained “significant damage,” however the city has noted that they are thankful the hurricane was not more severe.


Hurricane Ian’s impact on Southwest Florida:

Across Southwest Florida, record amounts of damage have been sustained and lives have been lost. A death toll in Lee County has not been released to the public and local sheriff Carmine Marceno informed CNN that, “I don’t know the exact numbers, it’s [the search] very preliminary.”

Governor Ron DeSantis has reported that the electric grid in Lee and Charlotte counties will likely need to be repaired or rebuilt, describing the damage as a result of storm surge and flooding as “biblical.” 

The Sanibel Causeway Bridge has collapsed, with a portion of the bridge severed by Hurricane Ian. Sanibel Island is unreachable by car, and large efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard via boat are in progress to rescue the unknown number of people stranded on the barrier islands. 

Images of McGregor Road to Sanibel Island have shown staircases ripped from homes, and cars carried across the four lanes of road by the nearly Category 5 level of sustained winds. Governor DeSantis has already stated that the bridge will need to be rebuilt. 

The U.S. Coast Guard has organized a ferry operation to help Sanibel residents evacuate from the island to the mainland. The boat departs from the Sanibel Boat Ramp, near the Causeway, every 90 minutes to two hours, carrying 30-40 residents each trip to Port Comfort (or Port Sanibel Marina). From there, residents are transported by bus to Lee County shelters. 

The operation will continue as long as necessary, and as long as the boat is available. 

Of the 2.5 million people without power in the state of Florida, more than 1.5 million of those people reside in Southwest Florida. “42,000 linemen from utilities across the state are working 24/7 to restore power” and “125 Florida Highway Patrol Officers are transporting utility crews into the area,” stated on the website.

Fort Myers Beach is almost entirely underwater. Times Square has been leveled by the storm surge and Estero Boulevard is covered with sand from the beaches surrounding it. With mandatory evacuations for the city not being sent out until Tuesday, most residents did not leave. Storm surge destroyed buildings and flooded others to the second floor or higher. 

Hickory Bridge is closed because of structural damage, and the rest of the bridges in Lee County are still being assessed to determine if they are safe to drive on. 

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter announced Thursday that all non-essential city services have been suspended for at least the rest of the week. City Hall will remain closed until further notice, however solid trash pickup will resume services on Monday, October 3rd. 

Nearly all traffic signals throughout Lee County are out and residents are urged to refrain from driving unless it is an emergency. Out of power traffic signals should be treated as a four way stop sign, and drivers should take extreme caution when driving throughout the cities. 

Do not attempt to drive through large stand-stills of water, as cars could flood or be impaled by foreign objects not visible to drivers. Major intersections are being staffed with workers in order to make sure that flow of traffic remains safe.

Debris is being cleared as quickly as possible, starting with fallen objects blocking roads. Mayor Gunter has informed residents that own boats to not use them. Canals throughout Cape Coral and the rest of Lee County are filled with hazardous objects. Once the roads have been cleared of debris, the city will work on clearing out the canals. 

If residents in Lee County are unable to stay in their homes, shelters are still available and taking people in. Cape Coral Fire Chief Ryan Lamb encourages residents to try to make it to Island Coast High School, who is still able to accept more people. If they cannot safely leave their homes, they are strongly recommended to remain in a safe area and wait for help to arrive.

On the Lee County website, an active list of open shelters is available. Currently, Dunbar High School, East Lee County High School, Estero Recreation Center, Hertz Arena, Island Coast High School, and South Fort Myers High School are all open and able to accept people. The addresses and directions for all shelter locations are available via this link:

The Lee County Government, assisted by state and federal governments, has set up eight distribution centers for people in need of food and water. These points of distribution will be open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M daily, and more points will be available in the coming days. 

The current locations are: Old Bonita Library, 26876 Pine Ave., Bonita Springs; Kelly Road Soccer Complex, 10750 Kelly Road, Fort Myers; Cape Coral Sports Complex, 1410 Sports Blvd., Cape Coral; Cape Coral Leonard Street, 4820 Leonard St., Cape Coral; Estero High School Ballfield Park, 9100 Williams Road, Estero; North Fort Myers Recreation Center, 2000 N. Recreation Park Way, North Fort Myers; Fleamasters Fleamarket, 4135 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Fort Myers; and Veterans Park Recreation Center, 55 Homestead Road S., Lehigh Acres.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank will also be distributing food starting October 1st in two locations: 10 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. at Harns Marsh Middle School, 1820 Unice Ave N, Lehigh Acres, for food and water and 9 A.M. to 11 A.M. at the Big John’s shopping plaza, 1215 Cape Coral Pkwy E., for food distribution.

The food bank will resume their pantry distribution on Monday, October 3rd.

The Fire Rescue number has received over 400 calls in the last day, and is currently holding over 250. Citizens of Cape Coral have been recommended to wait for help to arrive. Do not venture out into stand still water or attempt to clear fallen down power lines, cellular towers, or trees. If there is an emergency, call 911. If the fire department is needed, call 311. 

Southwest Florida International Airport [RSW] is closed until further notice for both departures and arrivals due to lack of power and water in Lee County, however vehicles parked in short or long-term lots are now available to retrieve. Other airports such as Tampa International Airport [TPA] and Orlando International Airport [MCO] reopened September 30th. TPA resumed operations at 10 A.M., while MCO reopened at noon. 


How Hurricane Ian is impacting school:

Lee County Schools have been cancelled for the week of October 3rd through the 7th as the district continues to analyze the damages to their buildings. 

Superintendent Doctor Christopher Bernier cannot say when classes may eventually resume again, as schools such as Fort Myers Elementary have sustained damage. 

Dr. Bernier described the situation as “a marathon” to NBC2 reporter Dave Elias. 

“Our community needs to understand that this is not a sprint to reopen,” stated Dr. Bernier. 

The Lee County School District has announced that they are working with their academic services team to establish a process for graduating seniors to continue to apply to college and other opportunities, like scholarships. 


Students and residents’ stories:

Sophomore Makiah Michaels lives in Zone A of Lee County’s evacuation zones and moved to Cape Coral a year ago. Hurricane Ian was her first hurricane. She and her family evacuated to a friend’s home early Wednesday morning, “We ended up evacuating to my mom’s friend’s home, since they’re pretty high above sea level, and it would take a lot of flooding for us to be impacted,” stated Michaels. “It’s a two-story home, and we’ve spent all of today upstairs. We didn’t go downstairs until about a half hour ago, when the water started to recede.”

Michaels and her family didn’t originally plan on evacuating, and because they left their home so quickly, she only brought with her things that couldn’t be replaced and her school backpack. She mentioned that they “just took what they could” and that “we weren’t thinking super clearly about what to bring.” Michaels felt like they evacuated people too late and hoped that people who needed to evacuate were able to.

“We thought that it [Hurricane Ian] wouldn’t be that bad. We ended up leaving this morning [Wednesday, September 28th,] because the storm surge predictions would have completely flooded my house. I don’t know how bad the damage is, but I think that my house is underwater. We’re not that high above sea level, so any amount of flooding would have done damage,” Michaels said.

Michaels mentioned that her and her family are safe, and that they are equipped with enough water and food to last them plenty of time. The house they were staying in had hurricane windows, and while they lost power around noon Wednesday morning, the home didn’t flood.

Michaels has since learned that her home did not flood, as her mother, Karen Michaels, visited their home Thursday morning. Water made it into their garage, but did not flood the interior of their home. However, her neighbors’ homes have sustained water damage. 

Senior Maya Richardson lives on the cusp of Zones A and B, however her family chose to stay and ride out Hurricane Ian. The damage they sustained is minor compared to others, however their pool cage, along with trees and roof pieces are wrecked or missing. 

“We lost our big tree out front-it’s laying down now, we’ve had a few roof tiles come off and break on the door,” stated Richardson. 


Hurricane Ian’s damage to Cuba:

On September 27th, Cuba was hit by Hurricane Ian late at night as a category three hurricane. Thousands of residents evacuated in order to seek shelter from the storm that caused destruction throughout the country.  

The provinces of  Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Río, and Artemisa were all placed under Hurricane warnings, however not all residents of these provinces had the resources to evacuate safely and quickly.

Although the “Antonio Guiteras” had several premeditated electricity shutdowns for safety, Hurricane Ian’s sustained winds of 125 mph left the entire island and more than 11 million residents in a “nationwide blackout” on Tuesday night, according to

However, some residents have reported power coming back as early as Wednesday in Havana, while most of the Western side remains powerless. Three confirmed regions have power, while major electrical companies work to restore power to the rest of the island. Due to the electrical grid collapse, officials do not know how long it will take for the country to be with power again.

Prior to Hurricane Ian, Cuban residents had been struggling with power outages and economic problems. Throughout the summer, the Cuban government has been routinely cutting the electricity, causing several anti-government manifestations and unrest within the country.

“On Tuesday, Ian hit Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months,” stated in an article.

Cuba faced flooding and complete power outages, and Unión Eléctrica de Cuba, an electric company located in the nation’s capital, Havana, stated that they were going to keep the power out for an extended amount of time than expected in order to steer clear from property damage or death. 

Pinar del Río, one of the largest provinces in Cuba was left heavily affected with the several inches of rain it received. Large amounts of flooding due to high storm surges impacted a substantial amount of the country, and rescue missions are being enacted in order to locate missing persons.

More than 20 missing migrants are believed to have been lost at sea in an attempt to escape the storm, and the U.S. Coast Guard and Board Patrol were sent out to locate and rescue a group of 23 migrants whose boat likely sank at sea during a storm, as stated by in an article.

Pinar del Río, one of the largest provinces in Cuba was left heavily affected with the several inches of rain it received. Cuba’s agricultural & commercial sector may be severely affected as a result of Hurricane Ian. 

“The day before the hurricane hit I took my wife and daughter to my in-law’s house. I returned home and planned to stay there that night. After the winds started to intensify I changed my mind and left with my family. When I returned the next day the entire ceiling of my house was gone, everything was rubble. If I had stayed, I probably would have died,” stated Julio Cesar Dupeyron and agricultural worker in Pinar del Río.

Top producers of large cash crops like tobacco have been left in shambles, as farm buildings were leveled by Hurricane Ian. 

“Sometimes hurricanes pass through here, but not of this magnitude,” stated Abel Hernandez, a 49-year-old tobacco farmer, to in an interview. “It destroyed our houses, our drying huts, our farms, the fruit trees, everything.”

Near Havana, 40 percent of Cuba’s banana plantations have been damaged or destroyed in the storm.