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At least 42 people have died and thousands have been rescued and relocated from the barrier islands, Lee County officials said Saturday, the fourth day after Hurricane Ian tore through Southwest Florida.

The exact number of rescues is yet to be known because of the number of different agencies doing the rescues.

Those were just some of the takeaways from a media briefing Saturday afternoon at Lee County’s Emergency Operations Center.

Boil water notices are still in effect.

About 500 more members of the U.S. National Guard will be arriving to the area to provide security for Pine Island, Matlacha and Sanibel and Captiva islands, Lee County commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said.

Residents there and on Fort Myers Beach’s San Carlos Island are being encouraged to leave, because it will be weeks if not months before the power grids can be restored there.

With the bridge to Pine Island out and the Sanibel Causeway unpassable, the county is working on short-term solutions to two long-term problems.

Within 10 days, a temporary bridge could be in place to allow Pine Island residents the opportunity to relocate their vehicles to the mainland, county manager Roger Desjarlais said.

“We’re working with the state Department of Transportation,” Desjarlais said. “We’re close to a plan that will allow temporary bridging at the site.”

Residents of St. James City told Gulfshore Business they had heard they would be forced from their homes. Desjarlais said those were rumors and were not true.

“Nobody is taking anybody off any island,” Desjarlais said. “What we can do is we can strongly suggest they leave until we have proper transportation on and off those islands, because it’s incredibly difficult to supply them every day. And it’s not sustainable.

“We also strongly encourage people to leave Fort Myers Beach.”

The Big Hickory Pass bridge is also out of service, and officials are evaluating that outage as well. That bridge is on the northwestern end of Bonita Springs.

“There’s only one way off Fort Myers Beach, and that’s the Matanzas Pass Bridge,” Desjarlais said.

There were still about 1,700 people in county shelters, a decrease from the peak of 4,000 when the storm hit. The county is working to consolidate the shelters to Hertz Arena in Estero.

Displaced island residents can continue relocating to county shelters. From there, they would be helped in the long-term in finding temporary housing until the infrastructure of the barrier islands can be fixed, Lee County director of communications Betsy Clayton said.

The Sanibel Causeway replacement would be a five-to-seven-year project under normal conditions, Pendergrass said. That would have to be accelerated.

“We’re still working on the details,” Desjarlais said. “How long it’s going to take, I cannot say. Lee County does not have a bottomless bowl.”

Southwest Florida International Airport has accelerated its timetable to reopen for commercial flights, with a planned reopening on Wednesday, Oct. 5, instead of Friday, Oct. 7, Lee County Port Authority director Ben Siegel said.

“It’s not the same airport you’re used to seeing,” said Siegel, as concessions and restaurants will be limited. “It will be a slow rollout. But we have tested all of our equipment and all of our systems, and everything will be operational.”

The county officials urged drivers to continue driving with extra caution as 400 traffic signals remain out because of power outages. They also urged people with generators to review safety procedures with generators.

“People keep placing generators in the wrong spot,” Desjarlais said. “They need to be 10 feet away from the home. At least.”

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