Lee County sheriff announces 42 deaths, stands ’100%’ by evacuation orders

MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno on Sunday afternoon announced 42 storm-related deaths in his county, which encompasses Matlacha, Pine Island, Captiva, Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach — coastal municipalities that saw some of Hurricane Ian’s worst destruction, and were described by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday as “ground zero.”

So far, about half of the confirmed deaths statewide are in Lee County. During a Sunday press conference, Marceno said he wouldn’t change anything about how the county carried out its evacuation plan.

“Everyone wants to focus on a plan that might have been done differently,” Marceno said. “Well I’m going to tell you, I stand 100% with my county commissioners, my county manager. We did what we had to do at the exact same time. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

County officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A and parts of Zone B at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the Herald previously reported. Two hours later, the order expanded to all of Zone B. By 2 p.m., a little more than 24 hours before Ian made landfall on Wednesday afternoon, the county expanded the evacuation order to include some parts of Zone C.

As of Saturday, the state Medical Examiners Commission had announced the cause of 12 Lee County deaths. All but one resulted from drowning.

Marceno said he’s unsure how many more there might be.

“There is unknown. We’re going through a lot of debris,” he said. “Those numbers could go up. I don’t know. I pray and hope that they don’t. But right now it’s confirmed: 42.”

During the Sunday press conference, Marceno also took a hard law-and-order stance, noting that he has a “zero-tolerance” policy for looting.

“If someone makes the error to walk into someone’s house, rob, steal and loot,” he said, “they are going to be carried out. Carried out. And I’m certain about it.”

State and county officials have announced about 85 deaths that are linked to Hurricane Ian as of Sunday evening.

The state Medical Examiner’s Commission has confirmed 58 storm-related deaths, but that number does not include the most recent figures from some county sheriffs. For example, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed 23 deaths related directly and indirectly to the storm, while the state has not announced any deaths in Charlotte County.

The Medical Examiner’s Commission did confirm the 42 deaths in Lee County. The commission released an updated list Sunday evening.