Marco Rubio: Hurricane Ian Damage To Florida’s Gulf Coast A ‘Character-Altering Event’
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill on May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Anna Rose Layden-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Hurricane Ian’s damage to Florida’s Gulf Coast communities was a “character-altering event.”

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Rubio said that buildings in areas hit hardest were flattened, and still others would be rendered uninhabitable and need to be razed. He also said that the damage would change the economic character and nature of the places affected.

“There are entire communities — Fort Myers Beach no longer exists,” Rubio told co-anchor Jonathan Karl. “I mean, it’ll have to be rebuilt. It’ll be something different… And even the structures that are standing — I was with the Coast Guard two days ago as we went overhead on it — even the structures that are standing have been damaged by water, probably uninhabitable and have to be razed.”

“Obviously, the human toll is still being calculated, and that — that has no price,” he added. “It’s extraordinary and we fear that number will continue to rise.”

Rubio said further that Sanibel Island, a popular tourist spot, is inaccessible because of damage to the bridge connecting it to the mainland.

“It’s not just the parts that were washed away, that entire bridge is structurally compromised potentially,” he said. “So, it will have to be rebuilt and that will take a while.”

In the meantime, getting people off the island is a priority for first responders conducting rescue operations.

“This is a character-altering event,” Rubio said. “It will change the character and the nature of these communities. They’ll be rebuilt, but you can’t rebuild something that is a slice of old Florida and bring it back. It will be something new, but it won’t be the same, and that’s the most heartbreaking part about it from an economic standpoint.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday on the Gulf Coast of Florida at nearly the strength of a Category 5 storm. With winds exceeding 150 miles per hour, the system was tied for the fourth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the Sunshine State.

On Thursday afternoon, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno shared footage showing destroyed neighborhoods and infrastructure along the coastline. Homes and streets were flooded as some residences smoldered with fire, beachfront structures were reduced to scraps, and portions of bridges were washed away or submerged.

Lee County, where Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island are both located, is home to nearly 800,000 people, according to data from the Census Bureau. The region is a major tourism hub on the Gulf Coast.

According to data from PowerOutage.US, roughly 89% of Lee County homes and businesses were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.

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