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Hurricane Ian slammed southwest Florida


Hurricane Ian is not done yet. The storm lost some intensity as it passed over land on Wednesday, but it entered the Atlantic Ocean, regained hurricane strength and is expected to hit South Carolina tomorrow. In Florida, Ian left behind a trail of destruction. For hours, it pummeled communities from Naples to Port Charlotte with 140 mile per hour winds. A massive storm surge also devastated resorts like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Today southwest Florida began assessing the damage. NPR's Greg Allen has spent the day visiting communities recovering from the storm. He joins us now from Sarasota. Hi, Greg.


CHANG: OK. So where exactly have you been today?

ALLEN: Well, you know, there's little power and cell service in the affected area, so I had to drive quite a ways north just to get a signal out. But one place we visited was North Port, a town in Charlotte County where there is a lot of canals. Water rushed in there yesterday, residents said, when the storm surge happened, and many neighborhoods were flooded. We stopped outside one development, Country Club Ridge, which still had six feet of standing water in some places. Residents were using canoes and kayaks to paddle to and from their homes, ferrying out people, pets and possessions.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Today in paradise.

ALLEN: Many people were clearly stressed here. Others were just trying to make the best of it.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, were rescue crews present to help?

ALLEN: Well, while we were there, this was all being done by residents and volunteers. You know, people were wondering where some of the help was coming from. Later in the day, we did see some local officials bringing school buses to take people who were being rescued from their homes, taking them to shelters. We talked at one point to Elva Saltay and her neighbor Heather Rossler about what they went through yesterday.

ELVA SALTAY: Everything's flooded - trees down, fence down, arbor down. Everything's destroyed - everything, every home in there.

HEATHER ROSSLER: Windows broken.

SALTAY: Windows broken, roofs off.

ALLEN: It's really a very difficult time for many here. There's just so much work to be done now. We also visited another community in Charlotte County, Englewood. Almost every building that we saw was damaged in some way. Michael Daly (ph), a resident there, says the problem was that for several hours, it was just the wind was relentless.

MICHAEL DALY: It was insane. The wind was as strong as anything I've ever seen. When we saw the cage starting to go, we started slicing the screens so it wouldn't pull the whole side of the house off. If you look around, some of the guys that didn't - their soffits and everything got torn down.

ALLEN: It was really a tough scene there...

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLEN: ...In Englewood.

CHANG: I can hear it in the voices. I know that many of these communities there were battered for, like, hours and hours by this hurricane. Which areas saw the most damage?

ALLEN: Well, you know, we're - you know, as you noted, we're still getting the assessment in.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLEN: But it's clear that one of the hardest-hit areas was Fort Myers Beach, which was just totally devastated. You know, we had that storm surge there for hours and plus the high winds. The pier there that's a well-known pier was destroyed. Only the pylons are left standing. Some important bridges were also taken out. The causeway to Sanibel Island was washed out in many places. And that's a place, I think, that many people know. It's this beautiful island that's a big resort, a place where people come from around the country. The causeway is now unusable, meaning that it's totally cut off now from the mainland. Today Governor DeSantis, Florida's governor, talked about it.


RON DESANTIS: Well, Sanibel is destruction. And this is - for those of you who haven't been, it's a beautiful place, really neat community. And it got hit with really biblical storm surge.

ALLEN: The governor said the state will work with locals there to make sure that Sanibel gets back the way it was before the storm. And I think that's going to be - that's been his tone all along - is that he says we will make a commitment working with the federal government to rebuild southwest Florida, you know, so that we can recover from this.

CHANG: And, Greg, what about the power situation? Has that noticeably improved at all?

ALLEN: Noticeably, it's hard to say. If you're in a place where your power's came back on, then certainly it's improved. And crews have been out very busy today restoring power to some areas. But there are still more than 2 million customers without power. We did get one piece of good news on the power front today, which is from the head of the state's largest utility, Florida Power and Light. He said they didn't find any major structural damage to any of their towers. That means that restoring power, although it's going to take some time, might go a little faster than what he'd warned earlier.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Sarasota, Fla., with the latest on Hurricane Ian, which is now Tropical Storm Ian. Thank you so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.