Coast Guard plans major rescue effort for stranded residents of Pine Island, Florida

Paramedics and other volunteers with a group who help rescue people after natural disasters went door-to-door on Florida’s devastated Pine Island on Saturday, offering to evacuate residents Hurricane Ian Only to find themselves stranded in a landscape of flooded houses without water or electricity.

The largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Pine Island is largely cut off from the outside world. Ian caused heavy damage to the island’s only bridge, making it accessible only by boat or air.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported Saturday evening that the US Coast Guard was planning a “waterborne” Pine Island evacuation effort on Sunday.

Residents were asked to come to the island’s fire department, where they would be taken by truck to the Yucatan waterfront, and then by boat across the Matalacha Pass. They will then be taken to a shelter.

Hurricane Ian Florida Damage
A resident walks past the wreckage on Pine Island Road in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in the Matalacha Islands, Florida, on October 1, 2022.

Eva Marie Uzcategui / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Pine Island has long been known for its quiet, small-town atmosphere and mangrove trees. It is a popular destination for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Now, there are dark scenes of destruction everywhere in this shattered heaven.

Houses have been broken into pieces and boats thrown on roadways. The island has no power, and no running water—save for a few hours on Friday when a resident said they were able to take a bath. A community of mobile homes was destroyed.

As of late Saturday, the official statewide death toll Ian. From stood at 24. However, after contacting the local sheriff’s offices, CBS News found that the number of deaths directly or indirectly attributed to the storm was at least 72. Of those 72 victims, 35 were in Lee County. Ian has also been attributed to at least four deaths in North Carolina.

Helen Koch gave her husband a kiss and uttered the words “I love you” as she sat inside a Medic Corps group helicopter that took her and seven of the couple’s 17 dogs to safety from the destroyed island on Saturday. was picked up. The dogs were locked in the cage as the helicopter took off.

Her husband, Paul Koch, stayed with the other dogs, and planned to leave the isolated island on another trip. He told the Associated Press that a few days ago, he didn’t think he’d make it, because there was a big storm and water started pouring into the house.

Medic Corps volunteers went to a house looking for a woman who was left behind during the storm and had no contact with her friends. Heavy furniture was dropped inside the woman’s house and her belongings were thrown here and there. There was no sign of the woman, due to which it was feared that she had been thrown out of her house due to the storm.

Some residents said they had not seen anyone from outside the island for days. Some shed tears when Medic Corps volunteers came to their door asking if they wanted to evacuate. Some declined the offer for now and asked for another day to pack their things. But others were eager to get off the island.

Linda Hansaw said the tight-knit island community is wonderful and “everybody who hasn’t left is trying to leave.”

But this was not true for everyone. Kathleen Russell was trying to persuade her elderly husband to leave, but he just didn’t want to. The couple turned down offers to vacate, saying they were not ready but could be ready to leave on Sunday.

The Medic Corps is a non-profit group of pilots, paramedics, doctors, a Navy SEAL, and other volunteers that respond to natural disasters and provide people with protection. According to the organization’s website, it began in 2013 in response to Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines and in 2017 began deploying aircraft and responders to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

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