The state of Florida has suffered extensive damage in the wake of Hurricane Ian. First responders are still assessing the aftermath of the destruction now that the storm has moved inland. Officials say the city of Fort Myers experienced winds up to 155 mph, heavy rainfall, and a storm surge of over 10 feet. It is considered the fifth largest storm to ever touch down in the state.
Things got particularly dicey at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte. Strong winds ripped off the roof of the ICU on the fourth floor just as the lower level started flooding.
“We didn’t anticipate that the roof would blow off,” said Dr. Birgit Bodine, who spent the night at the hospital in case of emergency.
Videos of the facility show patients wading through water and using towels to soak up the moisture. Bodine said the staff started moving the sickest patients to other floors as soon as the water started coming in, but only two other floors were available for patients due to the damage.
“The ambulances may be coming soon and we don’t know where to put them in the hospital at this point,” she said. “We’re doubled and tripled up.”
Before the storm on Wednesday, the hospital told the public that it would only be open for emergencies. Hurricane Ian was originally supposed to make landfall in St. Petersburg, but it moved south at the eleventh hour, catching some facilities off guard.
“HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital is currently open for serving patients in our facility right now and emergency patients only,” the hospital wrote on Facebook. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
Many homes and businesses were destroyed. Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson reflected on the extent of the damage early this morning.
“This is by far the worst storm I have ever witnessed,” he said. “Watching the water rise from my condo in the heart of downtown, watching it rise and flood out all the stores on the first floor, it was heartbreaking.”
The full impact remains to be seen, but officials say the death toll could be devastating. “While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know fatalities are in the hundreds,” said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.
“I can’t give a true assessment until we’re actually on scene assessing each scene. And we can’t access, that’s the problem,” Marceno added. “We’re accessing the bridges, seeing what’s compromised and what’s not. And this will be a life-changing event for the men and women who are responding. They’re going to see things they’ve never seen before.”
While some facilities were dealing with a surge of water, others had the opposite problem. At least nine hospitals throughout the area were forced to evacuate after the storm knocked out the local water supply.
“We have one large health system in southwest Florida that is without water in all of their facilities. And so they are fast approaching a point where they will not be able to safely take care of their patients. So that is an urgent focus to get those patients transferred,” said Mary Mayhew, the president of the Florida Hospital Association.
Mayhew said some 1,200 patients had to be evacuated in the hours leading up to the storm.
“There is considerable effort underway to rescue individuals who also will need medical care. And to identify hospital beds available either in the region or elsewhere,” she said.
Despite all the chaos, Bodine said her patients have been understanding and cooperative.
“For us, as much as everything is terrible and we’re exhausted … as long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that’s what matters,” Bodine said.