Sheriff counts 42 deaths in Lee County, stands by Ian evacuation orders

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno on Sunday afternoon announced 42 storm-related deaths in his county, which includes Matlacha, Pine Island, Captiva, Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach — coastal communities that experienced some of the worst destruction from Hurricane Ian and are governed by Gov. Ron DeSantis as “Ground Zero” on Friday.

So far, more than half of the confirmed deaths nationwide occur in Lee County. During a news conference on Sunday, Marceno said he would not change how the district is implementing its evacuation plan.

“Everyone wants to focus on a plan that could have potentially gone differently,” Marceno said. “Well, I’ll tell you, I stand behind my county commissioners, my county manager, 100%. We did what we had to do at exactly the same time. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

Related: Ian turned, Southwest Florida scrambled to his feet. Was there enough time to go?

County officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A and portions of Zone B at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Times/Herald previously reported. Two hours later, the order extended to all of Zone B. At 2 p.m., just over 24 hours before Ian landed Wednesday afternoon, the county extended the evacuation order to some parts of Zone C.

So far, the state Medical Examiners Commission has identified the cause of 12 deaths in Lee County. All but one drowned.

Marceno said he wasn’t sure how many more there might be.

“It is unknown. We’re going through a lot of rubble,” he said. “These numbers could go up. I do not know. I pray and hope they don’t. But now it’s confirmed: 42.”

Tough stance on looting

During Sunday’s press conference, Marceno also took a tough stance on law and order, noting that he has a “zero tolerance” policy for looting.

“If someone makes the mistake of going into someone’s house and robbing, stealing and looting,” he said, “they will be executed. Carried out. And I’m sure of that.”

State and county officials have announced about 80 deaths related to Hurricane Ian as of Sunday night.

The State Medical Examiner’s Commission has confirmed 44 storm-related deaths, but that number doesn’t include the latest figures from county sheriffs. For example, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed 23 deaths directly and indirectly related to the storm, while the state has not announced any deaths in Charlotte County.

The Medical Examiner’s Commission has also confirmed 30 deaths in Lee County — 12 fewer than the sheriff announced Sunday afternoon. The commission is expected to publish an updated list by Monday noon.

DeSantis vows to have rebuilt the Pine Island Bridge

At another news conference in Arcadia on Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has ordered the Florida Department of Transportation to build a temporary bridge to Pine Island to make the area accessible by car.

“It won’t be a full bridge and you’ll probably have to drive across it at 5mph or so, but at least it will allow people to get on and off the island with their vehicles,” he said.

DeSantis said work would begin as early as Monday.

“It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t take months and months,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the state will also help private insurance carriers set up “insurance villages” in most areas affected by Ian. The first will open in Lee and Charlotte counties, he said. That’s where people get help filing insurance claims, he said.”

My message is basically, we want to process these insurance claims as quickly as possible,” DeSantis said. “I will also remind people that the damage you have varies in terms of policy.”

DeSantis urged residents to make sure they have all documentation and know if they will be filing claims with their homeowners insurance or the National Flood Insurance program. The governor said he thinks most claims will be related to flooding, not wind damage.

Miami Herald contributor Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.

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Coverage of Hurricane Ian by the Tampa Bay Times

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