Fort Myers mayor Kevin Anderson has lived in the southwest Florida city for decades and seen numerous storms, but he has never experienced anything like the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28.
Anderson spoke with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on TODAY Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Category 4 hurricane bludgeoned Fort Myers with massive flooding and with winds that reached 150 mph.
"I came here in the mid-70s," Anderson said. "I was in the police department for almost 25 years, saw a lot of storms here. This is by far the worst storm I have ever witnessed.
"In the heart of downtown, watching that water rise and just flood out all the stores on the first floor, it was heartbreaking."
Anderson said Fort Myers emergency personnel are working to assist “several dozen people” who did not evacuate ahead of the hurricane. He has not been told of any storm-related deaths inside the city, which has a population of nearly 800,000 in the metro area.
City officials are working to evaluate the damage from the storm, which left more than 2.5 million people without power in Florida and created life-threatening flooding.
"We haven't had a full assessment obviously with the sun just coming up, but it is pretty bad," Anderson said by phone. "I'm standing on a floating concrete dock in the river district of downtown.
"The problem is the dock is in the middle of an intersection two blocks away from the water. This is a piece of concrete that weighs a ton, and it was moved this far away. That shows you how powerful the waters were last night."
President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Florida and ordered federal aid to areas affected by Ian, which was downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday.
Crews are now working to clear the roads in Fort Myers, where a curfew will remain in effect for the next 48 hours.
Once the roadways are clear, crews from Florida Power & Light will work to restore power, while teams of city personnel will go through neighborhoods to assist anyone in need, according to Anderson.
"I'm optimistic," Anderson said. "It's going to be a long recovery, but nonetheless we're going to recover because Floridians are very resilient."