Hurricane Ian Update: Latest Death Toll in Florida’s Lee County

by Alex Falls
Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty

Hurricane Ian ravaged Florida last week after the historic storm made landfall and unleashed a powerful wave of destruction in the state. Officials are still assessing the extensive damage left by Ian. As more information becomes available, the scope of the damage continues to grow.

The storm swept across Florida. It rolled across the Gulf and crashed into the southwest coast of the state. Lee County was at the heart of the impact and saw some of the most extensive damage done to a single town. Officials confirmed at least 42 deaths in Lee County as of Monday morning.

Hurricane Ian Leaves Lee County in Pieces

City chairman and Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass held a press conference Monday morning to detail the recovery efforts occurring in the city.

“We’ve all been very devastated the last few days after Ian hit our area,” Pendergrass said. “Today I’m filing another state emergency for another seven days of emergency management for Lee County. That gives our county manager authority to work with all the other agencies within the state and federal government.”

He added that all four hospitals in the Lee County area are now operating under normal conditions and are open to any resident in need of medical attention. Pendergrass also said attention is now going towards keeping law and order maintained in the storm’s aftermath.

“As the governor announced yesterday, 500 National Guardsmen will be deployed to the county as of today to provide security for the barrier islands. They will be here until we have law and order and we will continue to have orderly conduct to protect private property.”

He ended his statement by saying, “We urge residents that are still there to use our resources to leave the islands until we have everything back to normal within Lee County as we work with the city agencies. There’s a plan in place.”

Officials Criticized For Storm Preparedness

Lee County authorities faced scrutiny for not issuing an evacuation order until Tuesday before the storm hit. By Wednesday afternoon, the storm had moved in and brought a surge of 5 to 10 feet. Officials said the rapidly changing forecast made it difficult to determine the proper evacuation orders.

“Seventy-two hours before the storm, we still were not in the cone,” Pendergrass said. “We were working off of data and went off that data.”

Due to the size of the population and the limited road system connecting the coastal city and surrounding islands, southwest Florida is one of the most difficult areas to evacuate during a disaster.

Florida Task Force Two, made up of first responders from Miami, is still looking for survivors who may be alive, trapped below the rubble of the storm’s aftermath. But they know time is running out.

“We know in the first 48 hours that is your greatest opportunity to save a life,” said Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban.

Some residents are now living in a parking lot after losing everything, while others are still waiting to hear from friends and family still unaccounted for after the surges. Clean-up efforts will likely take weeks as officials continue to find their way after the historic storm.