MATLACHA, Fla. — A temporary bridge restoring access to Pine Island opened to the public Wednesday afternoon after emergency repairs were completed in less than three days, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The governor made the announcement at a news conference in Matlacha, one of the areas of Lee County hit hardest by Hurricane Ian.
“I’m happy to say that we’re able to be here today and emergency vehicles are gonna start going across probably in about an hour," DeSantis said around noon. "They’re doing the final run-through, final inspections and then later today, the public will be able to access this bridge and be able to get back."
DeSantis also announced that the Florida Department of Transportation has been given the green light to immediately begin repairs on the Sanibel Causeway.
The causeway was severed during the storm, causing sections of the bridge to completely crumble and closing off access to and from Sanibel Island. The state is aiming to have it accessible by the end of October, according to FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue.
Similarly to the Pine Island bridge, immediate repairs to the Sanibel Causeway will allow for safe passage to and from the island until permanent, long-term repairs can be made.
"Access to our barrier islands is a priority for our first responders and emergency services who have been working day and night to bring relief to all Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian," DeSantis wrote in a release.
Restoring access to the bridges will expedite efforts to replenish supplies, restore power and remove debris from the barrier islands. Residents will also regain driveable access from the mainland to Sanibel Island.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie joined the governor to give an update on relief efforts throughout the state. He said that more than 34 million bottles of water and more than 9 million ready-to-eat meals have been distributed so far.
Guthrie added that more than 200,000 FEMA Individual Assistance registrations have been done so far and approximately $70 million has been paid out to people in need.
FEMA expects hundreds of thousands of more applications. To apply, people can head to use the FEMA app on their phones, go to disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-3362 anytime between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.