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Miles of cars as devastated Fort Myers Beach reopens to residents

Drivers caught in traffic going south on San Carlos Blvd. at Summerlin Rd. on Sunday, October 9, 2022 towards Fort Myers Beach, Fla.

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. 

Lee County law enforcement directs traffic at the intersection of Summerlin Rd. and San Carlos Blvd. on Sunday, October 9, 2022.

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. 

The turnoff to San Carlos Blvd. from Summerlin Rd. is backed up with drivers headed to Fort Myers Beach on Sunday, October 9, 2022.

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.