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Can We Vacation in Hurricane-Hit Areas of Florida?

By Lois K. Solomon

From South Florida Sun Sentinel

Q: My husband and extended family and I would like to take a long-weekend trip somewhere in state. We’re wondering what the condition is of tourist destinations on the west coast of Florida, whether they are welcoming overnight visitors and what the situation is at the beaches and other tourist sites. Should we research this part of the state or give them more time to recover and look elsewhere? — Suzanne, Boca Raton, Florida

A: Much of southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast is still in recovery mode after Hurricane Ian, which decimated Fort Myers Beach and surrounding areas on Sept. 28 with 150 mph winds and record flooding. More than 100 people died.

The area got slammed but is making determined efforts to get back to normal. Debris is still being cleared; some parks and other facilities remain closed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a large presence.

The hard-hit town of Fort Myers Beach is open only to residents. Sanibel Island, beloved by so many visitors from South Florida and all over the country, is also not open to visitors yet. The causeway to Sanibel reopened Oct. 19, but only to emergency personnel, residents, business owners and contractors.

So you can’t stay now on Fort Myers Beach or Sanibel or neighboring Captiva Island. Here’s what Doug Babcock, chief executive officer of Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, says in a message on the resorts’ website:

“While the islands aren’t yet ready for our beloved visitors and guests, and we await guidance from Lee County relative to tourism guests, we certainly look forward to the day that we can welcome everyone back to our beautiful and recovering islands!” he said in the note, dated Oct. 26.

Visit Fort Myers has a lengthy list of businesses (at VisitFortMyers.com/open) including hotels and restaurants, that have reopened in Lee County locales such as Boca Grande, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs. There are farmers’ markets, theaters and other cultural institutions that are welcoming business. Some parks are open with “limited amenities.”

If you’re interested in Naples, which also took a hard hit from Ian, GulfshoreLife.com has published a list of restaurants that are open. But many beaches are closed as workers clean up debris and repair access points.

Ian caused extensive flooding in historic Old Naples, and the Naples Pier is closed after suffering heavy damage. According to the Naples Daily News, “Some hotels and motels remain closed. Those that are open have been filled with disaster relief and recovery workers from emergency responders and utility crews to adjusters and contractors.”

Here’s how Collier County’s convention and visitors bureau described the ongoing recovery: “We ask for your patience as we are in the final stages of readying our beaches, resorts, world-class restaurants, and renowned arts and culture venues. Many of these amenities are fully operational, while a select few others are in the final stages of resuming operations.”

As for the beaches: “Collier County is committed to your safety, and as a result, please follow all posted signs that may indicate that cleanup is in progress. Our beaches are still beautiful, yet work continues to ensure they return to their original pristine state.”

If you’re itching for a west coast vacation, Sarasota or Bradenton may be safer bets. Beaches in Sarasota and Manatee counties, to the north of Fort Myers, were relatively unharmed by Ian. Most businesses, schools and restaurants are open.

Wherever you choose to go, call ahead and make sure your hotel and other desired destinations are in good condition and ready for visitors. We’re going to have to be patient as the communities recuperate.

Ask Lois about life in South Florida. Email questions to AskLois@sunsentinel.com.

©2022 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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