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USAR teams rescue Fla. island residents after bridge damaged by Hurricane Ian

“We ended up transporting approximately 42 individuals and several pets from that area,” said Miami-Dade Lt. Alex Acosta


Hurricane Ian destroyed part of the only bridge connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland.

Photo/Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Douglas Hanks
Miami Herald

MIAMI — Residents stranded on Sanibel Island by Hurricane Ian flew to the mainland by U.S. Army helicopters after Miami-Dade County rescuers reached them, according to footage released by the agency.

Footage provided by Miami-Dade’s Fire Rescue department shows one firefighter on Thursday carrying a woman in their arms to an all-terrain vehicle in Sanibel, which then shuttled the person to the waiting Army helicopter.

“Fortunately we were able to find a suitable landing zone, and we started to evacuate people,” Miami-Dade Lt. Alex Acosta said in a county-produced video from the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. “We ended up transporting approximately 42 individuals and several pets from that area.”

The airlift operations in Sanibel were needed after Hurricane Ian destroyed part of the only bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

Acosta said county firefighters used chairs to double as stretchers to transport people unable to move on their own. No fatalities were reported, and Acosta, part of a nearly 100-person county deployment, said everyone they encountered on Sanibel was flown to the mainland.

Both Miami and Miami-Dade dispatched Urban Search and Rescue teams to Southwest Florida as part of a broad deployment by local agencies to the disaster zone, operations typically funded by the federal government.

Miami’s USAR Florida Task Force 2 released video footage showing rescue operations. A Miami Fire Rescue release said the team rescued more than 60 people trapped by floodwaters and debris. The team’s rescue squad has been working in Marco Island, Punta Gorda, Island Park and Fort Myers.

In one clip, Miami paramedics working at night are transferring several elderly people from a transport truck to an awaiting ambulance. “It’s going to be tight quarters guy,” one paramedic says off camera.

Erika Benitez, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said the county team, USAR Florida Task Force 1, is conducting rescue operations again in Sanibel on Friday.


Miami Herald staff writer Tess Riski contributed to this report.

©2022 Miami Herald.

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