Traffic getting on to Fort Myers Beach Sunday morning was worse than the season, residents said.
Residents, property owners, claims adjusters and “others that need to be on the island” were allowed to enter at staggered openings depending on their addresses.
By 10:15 a.m., those in line miles from the Matanzas Bridge on San Carlos Boulevard, the only open entrance to Estero Island, had already been waiting for 45 minutes, hoping to get in among the 10 a.m. wave.
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Several spoke to The News-Press from their cars as they waited in line to get on to Fort Myers Beach, where many had been blocked from accessing since soon after Hurricane Ian ravaged the island more than 10 days ago.
“Oh, I’ll wait. I’ll wait all day. I just want to see my beloved beach,” Lovell Larkin told The News-Press.
Her family first moved to the island when her mother was pregnant with her, and had been visiting the island for more than 60 years. She was headed out to check on her property and her family’s hotel.
Not everyone was as calm about the wait.
Terry Thimlar expressed his annoyance at there being only one path onto the beach.
He’d already found his way onto the island twice, once before the shut down and another time by dinghy, he said.
“This doesn’t do any good,” he said.
Increased access to Fort Myers Beach began Sunday for residents and property owners. The shift comes as the town government said it would take over the ongoing response to Hurricane Ian from the fire department, officials said Saturday afternoon.
Personal vehicles were being allowed on the island for the first time, but officials urged residents not to block roadways.
When accessed by The News-Press on Saturday, roadways at the north end of the island were largely cleared of debris, but most houses were only accessible by foot.
The staggered access was designed in an effort to avoid traffic congestion, Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said at a Saturday news conference.
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But Kathey and Don Herwerdon, who drove down from Brunswick, Ohio, to check on their family’s property, said the traffic was worse than in the typical tourist season, which spikes with the spring breakers in March.
At the intersection of Summerlin Road and San Carlos Boulevard, Lee County Sheriff’s deputies navigated frustrated drivers, emergency vehicles and bicyclists with choreographed patience.
The line of cars stretching back under the overpass began to dry up around 10:30 a.m. A 7 p.m. curfew remains in effect on the island, so those heading over had to leave by then or shelter in place overnight without water or electricity.
Monica Shmucker, whose house on San Carlos Island was severely damaged in the storm, was just trying to get home. She waved as she pulled a few feet forward in line, happy to move forward, still three miles from the bridge.
Reach reporter Mariah Timms at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8344 and on Twitter @MariahTimms.