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As Ian Weakens, Florida County Sheriff Declines to Evacuate Jail

Sheriff Carmine Marceno  said he won’t evacuate inmates from a downtown Fort Myers facility with beds for just under 500 people, because emergency measures are in place to protect them.

Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but officials warn the powerful storm is not done sweeping Florida towns and cities. Before it was downgraded Thursday morning, it caused exceptional damage to streets and homes in towns like Fort Myers, where videos show extreme flooding, stranding some families and killing an as-yet unknown number of Floridians.

In Lee County, hit hard by the storm, Sheriff Carmine Marceno explained that the county’s fatalities are high, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

“So while I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know fatalities are in the hundreds. There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued,” Marceno said on Good Morning America Thursday morning, explaining the response efforts the office is rolling out to help locate stranded residents and respond to emergency calls.

The Sheriff’s Office has made other news during Ian: Despite mandatory evacuation orders over the county for two days prior to the storm reaching Florida, the Lee County Sheriff’s office decided not to evacuate inmates – primarily pretrial detainees, not convicted of a crime – from a downtown Fort Myers facility with beds for just under 500 people, well within the county’s mandatory evacuation zone, the Miami News-Times reported Wednesday evening.

Lee County Sheriff Office’s spokesperson, Anita Iriarte, told the New Times that the office declined to evacuate the jail and that the office has its “own emergency measures in place.” As destruction spread across Lee County on Wednesday, the sheriff’s office repeated that the “inmates are safe.”

“Again, I can’t give a true assessment until we’re actually on scene assessing each scene. And we can’t access, that’s the problem,” Marceno said, pointing to the way damage from the storm is disrupting emergency response teams.

“We’re accessing the bridges, seeing what’s compromised and what’s not. And this will be a life-changing event for the men and women who are responding. They’re going to see things they’ve never seen before.”

President Joe Biden declared the storm a major disaster in Florida on Thursday, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts, and repair and recovery efforts will continue as first responders attempt to assess the damage and potential human impact.


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