‘We’re just getting started’: Search and rescue teams comb Fort Myers Beach for those who survived, and those who didn’t

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Fort Myers Beach is destroyed. The pain, suffering and destruction is indescribable.

News4JAX anchor and reporter Vic Micolucci and photojournalist Chris O’Rourke were escorted onto Fort Myers Beach along with officials from Miami and the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue teams Friday.

“We’re just getting started in Fort Myers Beach, and an intense search and rescue operation is underway,” one member of the search and rescue team said.

“In the first 24 hours, we were able to rescue 60 people,” another search and rescue team member added. “One resident had a medical emergency and stopped breathing. Paramedics were able to stabilize him and get him to the hospital with a pulse. You need to be prepared for anything like that.”

The storm surge and the wind from Hurricane Ian ripped the homes off their foundation. Response to the area is coming from multiple agencies -- Pompano Beach Fire Rescue, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade County, Coral Gables, and more -- rescue teams are using search dogs.

“We are a group of firefighters, doctors, engineers -- specialists in their field.” Chief Joseph Zahralban with Miami Fire Rescue said. “And this is their way of giving back to the community. This is their way of being of service to the community and they’re very passionate about it.” Zahralban went on to say, “I know this group. They won’t stop until they find every last individual.”

The team Vic and Chris were with, found seven bodies Friday. One body was found huddled in a bathroom in the center of a home, probably thinking it was a safe place, it wasn’t.

The search and rescue team members talked to residents Friday about how they were doing, if they needed anything, if they knew about their neighbors.

“The water was up to my balcony,” survivor Craig Ruke said. “And it was like you could just dive right off the balcony because there was just water everywhere -- stuff floating on it.”

”I’ll never stay again,” Ruke added. “If they say evacuate, go.”

When Vic asked him why he did stay, Ruke said, “We didn’t think it was going to be that bad, we thought it was going further north like Charlie, and I was here for Charlie, but this is worse than Charlie -- a lot worse.”

“There’s this feeling that you’re going to die,” survivor Emmy Crespo said. “And my advice to everybody, get out! Don’t stay, it’s ridiculous.”

Crespo pleaded, “Don’t follow my lead -- just get out! You’ll be ten times, a thousand times better. It’s the only advice I can give the whole world. Something’s coming, don’t wait for it. My mistake is the worst I’ve ever done.”

Watch raw video from Fort Myers Beach below

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.

Marilyn has been Digital Director since October 2021. She supervises Jacksonville's number one news website and most trusted source for local news.