FORT MEYERS BEACH, Fla. - Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, the town of Fort Myers Beach is now allowing residents and business owners to return to the area to begin the next steps of the recovery process.
Most residents of Fort Myers Beach have been off the island since being evacuated when Hurricane Ian approached the area at the end of September.
"Since the storm, the efforts to save lives and recover the remains of lost loved ones have been the top priority," Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said. "We are now ready to move to the next step in the recovery process."
Urban Search and Rescue Florida Task Force 2 team member R. Martin searches the damaged homes on Fort Myers Beach on Monday, October 3, 2022. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Access to Fort Myers Beach began at 7 a.m. Sunday for residents, property and business owners, as well as insurance adjusters.
However, anyone returning to the island must bring ID or proof of residency to be allowed access.
Still no electricity, water in Fort Myers Beach
There is important information people need to know about when returning to Fort Myers Beach.
There is still no power, water, wastewater service or trash pickup in the region, according to town officials.
In addition, internet and cell service are not at full strength as crews continue to make repairs after Hurricane Ian brought down trees and utility lines across the region.
Town officials warn many structures have been damaged or destroyed, and almost all structures are unsafe to enter.
There is also no food or water available on the island, and no businesses are open.
A 7 p.m. curfew also remains in place.
The island also had been covered by 12 to 18 feet of storm surge, which compromised the structural integrity of many homes and businesses. Electrical systems are also damaged across the island.
Damage is 'catastrophic'
Town officials are handing out notices to people returning to Fort Myers Beach warning that damage to homes and businesses is "catastrophic."
FOX Weather multimedia journalist Will Nunley is in Fort Myers Beach as residents begin returning to survey the damage and start picking up the pieces.
Nunley spoke with Fort Myers Beach resident Tim Newman who said he's been back on the island for a few days now and gets the sense that people will rebuild what was lost.
"There were 20 buildings here," he said while pointing to the scene of devastation behind him. "Gone. Parking lot - gone. That's pretty amazing."
Newman said he spoke with one of his neighbors who lived on the island for 47 years and said he would rebuild.
"He's been there 47 years in that house that's toppled over over there," he said. "He's going to rebuild. He already told me that."
Nunley said he's been watching people sort through the debris and recover what they can.
"This is going to be an extraordinary few hours and days for people who are coming back," Nunley said. "It's one thing to see this on television, right? To see the view we give people from the air in its totality. But to be down here and walk through this, and see people react coming back to what may have been their only home and start over and try to find anything that may have been left inside is truly remarkable."