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More Fort Myers Beach residents get chance to see damage, collect belongings starting Sunday

Fort Myers Beach mayor Ray Martin announces visitation criteria for town residents at a briefing Saturday afternoon.
Gerard Albert III
Special to WGCU
Fort Myers Beach mayor Ray Murphy announces visitation criteria for town residents at a briefing Saturday afternoon.

Access will be allowed Sunday via Matanzas Pass Bridge to Fort Myers Beach for residents from specific parts of town to check Hurricane Ian-damaged properties.

Access initially opened Saturday for residents only in the north end of the island. It was to be phased southward in two-day increments as debris management efforts and USAR operations allowed.

Shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday, Fort Myers Beach officials confirmed that more of the town would be opened as of Sunday.

Residents from an area between Big Carlos Pass Bridge and the Beach Theater on the south side of Fort Myers Beach and residents between Times Square and Bowditch Point Park on the north end of the island will get access Sunday.

Reopening access to the town will be for residents, property owners, business owners and insurance adjusters. In addition, the responsibility of controlling access to the town has also switched from the Fire District to the Town Government of Fort Myers Beach

“Since the storm, the effort to save lives and recover the remains of lost loved ones has been the top priority,” said Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy. “We are now ready to move to the next step in the recovery process.”

Portable showers and restrooms were also brought in for residents to use while at their homes.

Fire Chief Ron Martin warned on the department's Facebook page that there is not a single structure that is unaffected in the town.

“Every single structure is considered unsafe until they are inspected and that inspection is verified," Martin said. "Anyone choosing to take advantage of this phased access is doing so at your own risk.”

Murphy said because of numerous challenges that exist in the town, the access plan is designed to only provide an opportunity for residents to see the damage to their properties and collect necessary belongings.

Residents and property owners were also told to bring ID with them or proof of residency to be allowed on the island.

Buses were used Saturday to ferry homeowners to the island. Beginning Sunday personal vehicles are being allowed and those coming to the island were urged to not block streets or hinder operations such as debris removal.

To minimize traffic congestion, the following plan will be used:

  • Property owners between the Big Carlos Pass Bridge and Beach Theater on the south end of the island, or between Times Square and Bowditch Point Park on the north end of the island can enter beginning at 7 am.
  • Properties between the Beach Theater and Publix can enter after 8 am.
  • Properties between Publix and Town Hall can enter after 9 am.
  • Properties between Town Hall and Times Square can enter after 10 am.

A town guide to the access said there is no power, no water or wastewater service and no trash pickup. Internet and cellular service is not at full strength. Many structures are destroyed, and almost all are unsafe to enter.

Additionally, there is no food or water available on the island, and no businesses are open.

At the south end of the island Big Carlos Pass Bridge remains closed due to structural issues.

A 7 p.m. curfew remains in place and those that come to check on their properties should plan to leave the island before that time.

Firearms and hazardous materials including but not limited to generators, fuel, and batteries of any kind are prohibited.

Residents were also warned to be prepared for a challenging infrastructure environment — there will be no power to energize equipment, as well as no running water for drinking, cleaning, bathing, or utilizing toilets.

Bottled water or other hydration sources were among supplies residents were urged to bring.

Because the island was covered in 12-18 feet of salt water from the storm surge, officials warned residents to avoid contact with flood waters, rivers, or gulf/bay waters to prevent exposure to unknown physical, chemical, biological, and/or bacterial pollution. The electrical systems of most structures on the island are damaged.

The town's access press release said permits and inspections will be required before power will be turned back on to individual structures and recommended property owners use locally licensed contractors.

Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams from FEMA will be on the island in the coming days to help people register for federal disaster assistance. Residents can also register online at disasterassistance.gov or on the phone at 1-800-621-3362.

An interim Town Hall has been set up beside the damaged Town Hall. Details on required permits and inspections will be made available on the Town’s website and social media channels.

Representatives from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Lee County Public Safety, incident management teams and others are assisting during the recovery process.

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