Hurricane Ian ravages Sanibel Causeway, other Florida infrastructure

Dive Brief:

  • Hurricane Ian battered Florida’s infrastructure when it made landfall Wednesday, swamping the southwest part of the state in particular and leading to widespread flooding and power outages. The record 150-mph winds and towering waves wiped out whole sections of the Sanibel Causeway in Lee County and hit other infrastructure across the state, causing an estimated $40 billion in damage.
  • Damage to the 12-mile causeway severed the only connection to the mainland for Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The causeway, which opened in 1963, spans the San Carlos Bay and consists of three two-lane bridge spans with artificial islands between them.
  • Two portions of the ramp to the bridge washed away, as did a section of roadway that crossed an island in the middle of the causeway, according to CNN. Inspectors in Lee County and elsewhere are still working to assess all bridges, local officials said, but it’s clear the county was devastated by the hurricane.

Dive Insight:

On Thursday after the Category 4 storm had largely moved out of the state, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the Sanibel Causeway will need to be rebuilt, as will parts of the electric grid in Lee County and neighboring Charlotte County. A Florida power outage tracker showed nearly 2 million residents throughout the state were without electricity as of Friday morning.

Other infrastructure has been damaged as well. In Punta Gorda, Florida, in the southwest part of the state, city officials reported their water reservoir emptied overnight, according to Fox 13. Hospitals and nursing homes are inundated with water, the Associated Press reported. The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport sustained damage to its roof, according to Tampa Bay 10.

The state is working to become more resilient to severe weather events. Late last year, storm surge-prone Tampa, Florida, started a $39 million stormwater project to improve drainage and protect the city from flooding. The project was on schedule before Ian swept through, but it’s not clear how much the hurricane will set it back.

Florida is starting to pick up the pieces, but Ian’s reign of destruction may not be over. After diminishing to a tropical storm, Ian strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane again as it headed out over the Atlantic Thursday. It was expected to hit Charleston, South Carolina, by midday Friday.

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