PINE ISLAND, Fla. - Hurricane Ian destroyed a vital bridge to Pine Island when the Category 4 storm roared ashore last week, bringing a deadly storm surge, torrential rain and powerful winds. In true "Florida Strong" fashion, crews got to work and quickly completed a temporary bridge to the island that will provide a much-needed lifeline to residents stranded since the historic storm made landfall.
Millions of people from the Tampa area south through hard-hit Lee County were told to evacuate their homes and find shelter at least 20 miles inland to escape Hurricane Ian's wrath. Many people in Southwest Florida have since been allowed to return home and assess the catastrophic damage left behind.
However, since the vital causeway between mainland Florida and Pine Island was destroyed, thousands of residents have been stranded on both sides of the bridge.
For people stuck on Pine Island since Hurricane Ian hit, the U.S. Coast Guard was brought in Sunday to evacuate residents.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Transportation brought vehicles and crews to the Matlacha Pass Bridge to begin restoring access to Pine Island with the construction of a temporary bridge.
"Within 24 hours after I asked FDOT to get involved, we had more than 130 trucks rolling in, and crews got to work," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news release. "We made it a priority, and we didn't just get it done - we got it done quick."
Although quick may be a bit of an understatement.
"Hundreds of loads of sand, rock, various pieces of heavy equipment, and dedicated crew members have literally helped pave the way to recovery for this community," FDOT secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E., said. "We are proud to have worked alongside our partners, Lee County, and deliver on our promise of reconnecting this community to the mainland as quickly as we possibly could."
DeSantis praised the work of determined construction crews both at a news conference on Wednesday and on social media.
"I saw people who were incredibly resilient," he said on Wednesday. "They were boating in things. There was no way they were going to leave this island. This is their home. Now, with this bridge, we can get some power trucks here."
Tens of thousands of utility workers have been hard at work making repairs to restore power to the more than 2.5 million customers that were plunged into darkness during Hurricane Ian's fury in Florida.
Like crews that have completed the temporary bridge to Pine Island, work is being done quickly. A little more than a week after the hurricane, the number of customers without power has been reduced by more than 90%. As of Thursday afternoon, about 185,000 customers remain in the dark.
While crews will continue to work around the clock to turn the lights back on, some hardest-hit areas could be in the dark for weeks, if not months.
FDOT said that with the construction of the temporary bridge now complete, emergency personnel, utility trucks and FDOT's Cut and Toss crews now have access to make the island safe and secure for the 9,000 people who call Pine Island home.
Soon those residents will be able to return to their homes and start the recovery process.
FDOT said that once the immediate recovery efforts subside, permanent repairs to the Pine Island Bridge will be undertaken, but those repairs are expected to take a long time to complete.