TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday the U.S. Coast Guard has been performing rescue missions on the barrier islands of Southwest Florida since the early morning hours in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
DeSantis toured storm damage in Charlotte County in the afternoon and said some parts of the area were hit with "biblical storm surge."
"Sanibel is destruction," DeSantis said. "It got hit with really biblical storm surge and it washed away roads, it washed away structures."
WATCH: Florida's governor gives update on Hurricane Ian aftermath
In places like Sanibel Island, where the only causeway on and off the island has collapsed, the National Guard and Coast Guard are landing helicopters on the island to perform search and rescues.
"There have been a number of people that have been identified and brought off the island safely. And those efforts are ongoing," DeSantis said.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management said more than 500 people have been rescued in Lee and Charlotte counties as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
The governor said during a news conference at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee that the Coast Guard and other first responders have been out since early Thursday to help those in need.
As of 6 a.m., DeSantis said, there are 2.2 million utility customers without power throughout the state, mostly in Southwest Florida.
"Lee and Charlotte (counties) are basically off the grid at this point," DeSantis said.
The governor added the power grids in those counties will likely have to be rebuilt.
"That's going to be more than just connecting a power line back to a pole," DeSantis said.
Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of FPL, said 1.2 million of the company's customers are without power and more than 700,000 customers have already had their power restored.
DeSantis said 100 portable cell towers are being deployed to the region once it's safe to do so, which should help with the disruption in communications.
"We also gotta just stabilize the area with these keys services," DeSantis said. "This is gonna be a 24/7 operation."
Although most of Interstate 75 remains open, DeSantis said there was severe structural damage to the Sanibel Causeway and Pine Island Bridge.
"Those two are not passable and they are going to require structural rebuilds," DeSantis said.
To aid in the Hurricane Ian relief efforts, you can donate to the Florida Disaster Fund by clicking here or texting DISASTER to 20222.