TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Aerial views of some of the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Ian this week have provided a closer look at the widespread damage and devastation left by the storm.
The WFLA Eagle 8 press helicopter flew from Tampa to the Fort Myers area Friday afternoon to assess the damage. Photojournalist Jim Hockett, who worked and lived in Fort Myers, was behind the camera as the helicopter flew over Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.
Parts of the Sanibel Causeway, the only route to and from Sanibel Island, were completely wiped out by the storm earlier this week.
“You can see where the pavement just completely buckled,” Hockett said as he hovered over one of the breached areas of the bridge. “And then if you take the roadway that way, it gets completely washed out. It’s just – gone. The bridge has completely disappeared here. The pilings have disappeared, the bridge has disappeared. There is no road at all.
Views from above showed the huge gaps between the remaining parts of the causeway. It also showed where the sand washed away under the roadway when the area flooded with water.
“It’s the power of storm surges,” said meteorologist Rebecca Barry. “We’ve talked, as Hurricane Charley approaches, about the possibility of bridges crossing the Tampa Bay area being washed out. Surge can do that, unfortunately.
Captiva and Sanibel Islands
The storm surge also created giant washouts along the beach on Captiva and Sanibel Islands.
“These are now all along the coast, which has completely changed the landscape of the beach,” Barry explained.
As Eagle 8 flew over the beach, Hockett spotted a group of about eight people trying to leave the island via a private boat because they couldn’t get out by road with the causeway washed away.
“It looks like it’s the only way anyone can get in or out of the island right now, it’s either by helicopter or boat,” he said.
Barry pointed out the dangers of boating in this area so soon after the storm.
“There’s going to be a ton of debris in the water. The shoals will have changed, the sandbars will have changed,” she explained. “So they’re going to take it very slowly.”
Fort Myers Beach
Eagle 8 and Hockett then flew over Fort Myers Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by the surges. One of the first things they saw was the destroyed Fort Myers Beach pier.
“Here’s what’s left of the Fort Myers Beach pier. It’s completely gone, just the stakes left,” Hockett said.
Buildings – both homes and businesses – were also destroyed in the storm. Others, mostly newer buildings, appeared to have avoided major damage.
“It’s a great example of the new building codes,” Barry said. “See the house that looks almost intact and unscathed? This is the new construction of the hurricane code. And the old house next door which was not subject to the same code when it was built has almost completely disappeared.
Downtown Fort Myers Beach was also decimated, with some restaurants and stores completely wiped out.
“There should be lots of shopping, restaurants, people having fun – enjoying their vacations,” Hockett said. “And right now, it’s just gone. It has just been deleted. You can see the pilings of what remains of the buildings. Anything left here right now is complete destruction.
Areas near the city center where houses once stood were also heavily damaged, with many houses completely gone. Debris was strewn everywhere, likely washed away when the storm surge hit.
“It’s not right on the beach, it’s a few blocks from the beach,” Hockett explained. “So it’s not just houses on the beach that are destroyed, but a few blocks. Here you can see – there should be houses here, buildings here, but only the pilings are left. The storm surge just arrived with high winds and wiped everything from its foundation.
The news helicopter spotted clearing efforts, including bulldozers trying to clear sand from roads to allow other equipment access to the area.
Fort Myers Marinas
Some of the most shocking images from the Fort Myers Beach area showing the power of Hurricane Ian came from marinas with large shrimp and fishing boats.
“They’re huge boats…just thrown on top of each other,” Hockett said. “It gives you an idea of how strong this storm surge was, how high it was and how strong these winds were because it picked up all these boats and just threw them here.”
Another marina not far away had yachts thrown ashore and boats overturned in the water. Some boats even landed on nearby houses.
“They have boats inside their homes,” Hockett said. “These boats are now inside this mobile home park.”
“You can’t even count all the boats that are here,” Hockett said as he hovered over one of the marinas. “You can’t even tell what’s under all those boats. There’s so many boats, so many fishing boats here, you can’t tell what’s underneath.