Preliminary assessments Thursday morning following Hurricane Ian's landfall south of Englewood as a nearly Category 5 hurricane revealed Venice and North Port were among some of the hardest hit areas.
Ian made landfall at around 3:05 p.m. Wednesday near the island of Cayo Costa with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, bringing with it massive storm surge, more than a foot of rain across a wide area and some of the strongest winds to hit Florida.
Videos and photos shared on social media and in the news throughout Wednesday from Fort Myers and Naples showed areas flooded by storm surge.
In Sarasota and Manatee counties, trees and power lines were downed by strong wind gusts but damage was generally limited for many. Photos and videos showed the iconic Sarasota Jungle Gardens sign toppled over.
In Venice, multiple mobile homes on North Waterway in Country Club Estates were damaged in an early morning fire. Venice Fire Rescue, Venice Police, Venice Public Works, Sarasota County Fire and Nokomis Fire were able to respond and no injuries were reported. The fire was under control at 2:50 a.m.
An emergency room in North Port affiliated with Sarasota Memorial Hospital sustained roof damage causing water to enter the building and leading the emergency room to shut down. At the time, about eight patients and 50 staff members were inside.
Kim Savage, a hospital spokesperson, said it is unclear when the facility will reopen. A roofing company is coming to assess the damage to see if a temporary repair is possible to get the facility back open.
The staff is waiting to move two patients, one patient to an assisted living and the other to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, she said. Most patients were discharged and waiting in the building for the roads to be cleared to leave.
Elizabeth Hayes watched the entirety of Hurricane Ian pass over her North Port home through a peephole in her shutters, but the longtime resident was not prepared for the devastating flooding that would inundate the community during the Category 4 storm.
Yet, she knows more floodwater is on its way.
“We’ve seen it flood, we’ve boated in and out before, but this is devastating,” Hayes said. “It’s up to my ankles, but it’s still rising. This area takes rain from the center of the state, so it’s going to still keep on flooding.”
Frank Abbruzzio’s home in Pine Brook was surrounded by water Wednesday evening as it encroached too close for comfort.
The manager of The Scoop News said there was water 5 feet from his front door and behind his home, the metal pool cage that encased his pool was torn apart by strong wind gusts, aluminum pieces slammed into his home and parts of the awning strewn across his front yard.
Water from a lake behind his home, which feeds of the gulf and Currie Creek, edged close to the pool area. Water was pushed into his home and office.
Water remained shut off to Siesta and Casey Keys Thursday morning, and the county anticipated more disruptions in other service areas.
As the storm made its way out of the area in the early hours Thursday, Sarasota and Manatee counties entered into recovery mode and deployed their Tactical First-In Teams to assess preliminary damage and emergency routes for first responders.
Manatee County officials sent teams to clear the roadway to the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and ensure Highway 70 was open. Staff were also deployed to fix 400 of the 700 lift stations in the county, including repairing backup generators for the top 200 lift stations, which provide the main infrastructure for the wastewater system.
Officials were still asking residents to avoid flushing the toilet and limit water usage as much as possible, until the stations have been repaired.
"We dodged a pretty significant bullet, but we have a lot of work to do," Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said, adding a boil water notice will most likely be announced and residents should drink bottled water.
Manatee County announced around 8 a.m. it rescinded its mandatory evacuation orders which have been in place since Tuesday morning. Officials closed down shelters, allowing residents to return to their homes to assess damage.
“This is not an all-clear,” Hopes said. “There are still hazards out there. And you need to understand the danger.”
Myakka was the hardest hit area in Manatee County, Hopes said, with the Myakka River flooding at historic levels. The water will continue to rise for the next two days before receding. Search and rescue efforts were underway as people sought refuge on their roofs to escape the rising water.
Some 190 National Guardsmen from Ocala are expected to be deployed to help with efforts in the Myakka area.
Although the Myakka area took the brunt of the wind impact, Hopes said the damage in the county has been widespread with teams clearing downed trees in Palmetto, Snead Island and Rubonia — all areas of focus.
Manatee County EMS began addressing a backlog of over 50 cases in the county in need of dispatch ambulances and paramedics.
Manatee County also deployed 15 damage assessment teams into the community to assess damages in the area and find what the major needs are, whether it's medical care, housing or food.
Some gas stations and restaurants were open Thursday morning, but officials urged residents to remain home while crews worked on clearing roads and restoring utilities. Sarasota and Manatee Publix stores remained closed, however, with plans to reopen at 7 a.m. Friday, according to the company's website.
Despite officials imploring people to stay home, many drivers were out at around 9 a.m. driving along Cortez Road in Bradenton and throughout downtown Sarasota, many avoiding broken signage laying on the roadways, downed trees and other debris. Some roadways, including Fruitville Road near Beneva Road in Sarasota were closed due to a downed tree and power lines blocking access.
Power outages continued Thursday morning across swaths of Southwest Florida. At about 9 a.m., Florida Power and Light reported that the hardest hit counties included Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. Some 97,880 customers, or about 49%, in Manatee County and 194,450 customers, or about 68%, in Sarasota County were without power.
Communities initially forecast to bear the brunt of Ian woke to minimal damage since the storm passing further south of the Tampa Bay region.
After thousands of people evacuated, preparing for life-threatening storm surge, residents in St. Petersburg awoke Thursday to minimal damage.
Police directed traffic at intersections with broken traffic lights. Some trees had fallen, blocking roadways and taking down power lines. In Coquina Key, an island community south of downtown, a Norfolk Island pine had snapped in half, its branches scattered in a yard.
Nearby, Dale Fredrick used a chainsaw to cut branches of another downed tree blocking a roadway.
“It won’t take long,” Fredrick, 58, said. “Just little by little.”
One of the city’s lowest lying neighborhoods, Shore Acres, escaped flooding that poured into homes two years ago during Tropical Storm Eta.
Across Pinellas County, which also includes Clearwater and a swath of smaller cities, thousands were still without power. Duke Energy reported 173,000 outages Thursday morning.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Hurricane Ian: Venice, North Port among hardest hit areas after storm