A first look at Sanibel on Monday morning, Sept. 11, a downed tree. Photo by City Manager Judith Zimomra
A first look at Sanibel on Monday morning, Sept. 11, a downed tree. Photo by City Manager Judith Zimomra

ORIGINAL 8 A.M. STORY

It won't be today, but residents of Sanibel and Captiva will return to islands that were spared from Hurricane Irma at the last minute.

We are going to need at least a day, but Sanibel residents can rest easy,” Sanibel City Manager Judith Zimomra said Monday morning, Sept. 10, less than 24 hours after the passage of Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma officially made landfall at Marco Island near Naples at 3:35 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Sept. 10. Irma's eye quickly fell apart and the storm weakened to category 2 by the time it reached Lee County. Like Fort Myers and Cape Coral, Sanibel and Captiva took a lot of shrapnel but dodged the big bullet of a well-formed eye wall.

The storm took a turn to the east at the last minute,” Zimomra said. “There are a lot of trees down on the bay and there are downed power lines. But our structures did extremely well. There is no structural damage of any significance.

As soon as we can open up, we will, but people will be going to homes that don't have water or power,” she said.

Lee County and the Florida Department of Transportation inspected the Sanibel Causeway early Monday. Now the island inspection is under way.

The next six to eight hours will be critical as we continue to monitor for possible storm surge on the island,” the city said in a statement Sunday night. “We are continuing to monitor the surge through high tide.”

Storm surge reports were somewhat encouraging Monday morning with a surge of 1.5 feet occurring with the possibility of going to 2 to 3 feet. Surges of 6-12 feet had been predicted.

Irma landed at Marco Island as a category 3 hurricane at 3:35 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, the day that is considered the absolute peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, and Irma landed 10 minutes of the time of day Hurricane Charley landed at 3:45 p.m. Aug. 13, 2004.

First and foremost we express our sincere support to our sister cities of Naples and Marco Island,” Sanibel's statement said. “It has been devastating to watch the storm surge damage in their communities. We realize but for a few degrees of direction that would be Sanibel.”

While South Florida enters recovery mode this morning, Irma is category 1 and continues to cut a swath across Florida in a relentless march toward Georgia and South Carolina. Florida cities Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville and Jacksonville were being pelted this morning.

A countywide curfew remains in effect from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Sanibel City Hall will be closed Monday and Tuesday. The city had already canceled Monday's two City Council meetings, one of them a mandated budget meeting, and Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting.

The city's command center had its moments during Irma. Initially located at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fort Myers, it was uprooted Saturday by a storm surge evacuation order and was moved to an undisclosed location from which it operated during Irma.

No timetable has been released about when islanders will be allowed to return. Once the all-clear is issued and it is safe to move about, no re-entry pass will be required, the city said.

Islanders will return to homes without power and a boil water order from Island Water Association will be in effect. Sanibel will not be alone in its lack of electricity – 95 percent of Collier County is without power today and more than 5.5 million Floridians are in the dark, more than 80,000 of them in Lee and Collier counties.

The weather will include scattered showers today coming in from the Gulf of Mexico as part of Irma's tail.

Today won't be the day when islanders can come back,” Zimomra said. “But that's because of downed lines and vegetation blocking roadways. We need to get that cleared away first.”

Video from Captiva on Monday morning confirms Zimomra's assessment with a lot of limbs on the road but structures all in tact. Because the damage was not devastating, Zimomra said once the causeway and island open that no hurricane passes will be required for entry.