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Island communities usually ordered to evacuate first ahead of storms

When a storm threatens Southwest Florida, and you’re ordered to evacuate, you want to do it safely and quickly. But evacuation is not always as simple for those who live on an island, especially when there are limited routes off it.

Small, coastal community are usually ordered to evacuated first ahead of a major storm. As many know from experience, they’re often hit first too.

There are two bridges to get on and off Marco Island, and it’s built into the evacuation plan for the island.

“It literally sent down a wall of water three or four-feet high,” Henry Hill said. “It just came down the street, but by morning when I got up, the streets were dry. We backed the car out and drove around Marco.”

But Hill didn’t drive off Marco; he stayed during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“The traffic getting in the car, trying to go north on I-75,” Hill said.

Southwest Florida communities like on Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach, Matlacha and Marco all landed on a traffic analysis firm’s map highlighting how few routes drivers have to evacuate.

Photo via WINK News.

“Watched several acquaintances go through enormous stress because of this,” Hill said. “And they evacuated internally into Naples and other places.”

But Hill saw the danger.

“If you have a heart attack, you’re on your own,” Hill said.

The five communities we reached out to said many people left quickly. They told us emergency managers just like everyone else have to work with island landscape.

“We have two bridges going across and you can get on Tamiami highway,” Hill said.

The cities make sure people store boats appropriately, and hotels move guests out quickly.

Collier County and Lee County officials told us they hold special seminars for island communities well in advance of hurricane season. Around 100 people showed up to events held on Sanibel and Pine Island this year.

Lee County said barrier island communities and mobile home parks were the first ordered to evacuate during Irma.

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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