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Access to Sanibel and Captiva Islands May be
Blocked for a Week or More
By Mireidy Fernandez and Jamie Malernee, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

August 16 2004 - It's been two days since Hurricane Charley hit the vacation getaway that is Sanibel, but resident Dawn Ramsey still doesn't know whether to exhale.

The tiny inn she and her husband run to earn a modest income could be destroyed. Or not. The home where they have enjoyed an idyllic island setting while raising their two children could be blown to bits. Or just a little soggy.

As the rest of southwest Florida comes to terms with being struck or spared by the hurricane, those who live and work on Sanibel and Captiva islands remain frustrated. Officials have banned their return following Thursday's mandatory evacuation and say it could be a week or more before access is granted to the islands. Nearby, the isolated retreat of North Captiva Island is literally in pieces, divided in half by Charley's storm surge with an inlet several hundred yards long.

"We're nervous, anxious. There are a lot of affluent people on the island, but not us. We put everything we have into the place. We have no savings, no nothing," said Ramsey, who runs the five-bungalow Tarpon Tale Inn. "It's our life. Is it still there? We don't know."

City officials cited safety reasons -- inaccessible roads, downed power lines, mounds of debris, an unsafe bridge -- for keeping residents away. Electricity remains out. Water is on but not drinkable. Sanibel Police Chief Bill Tomlinson said the city's emergency plan would be followed to the letter and that no one would be allowed in until "100 percent" of all structures on the island had been inspected and "100 percent" of all roads were clear.

"That's the answer, and that's the final answer," he said Sunday night to a crowd of 500 displaced residents and business owners who crammed into a meeting at a Fort Myers Holiday Inn.

The grumbling residents said they were more than willing to pitch in with clean-up efforts, but were told they would only get in the way.

"This is ridiculous. No other community ... is going through this. The hurricane struck Punta Gorda [worse] and the residents there are allowed to walk around and see their homes, " said Sanibel homeowner Paul Reynolds. "We're grown adults. We didn't elect these people to be our fathers and our mothers. We elected them to run a city government for us."

In fact, Fort Myers Beach residents were also unable to return to their homes Sunday. Renter Jim Huber said he had heard access to his town was supposed to open at 2 p.m., but as of 5 p.m., he remained stranded because of sewer problems and structural damage caused by the storm surge.

Some homeowners insist that every extra hour they have to wait isn't just annoying, it's costing them money.