Parts of Florida have been left in chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, and even while rescue operations are still ongoing with disaster crews on the ground, people have been looting.
“It was very early and some of the looting was starting already, but it will get progressively worse, I think as people become more desperate,” Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, who was part of a 15-person Rapid Response team who have been assisting in recovery efforts, told TCPalm.
The county lost all electricity, water and gas, Snyder said. In the streets, he encountered “dazed” survivors, as well as “some pretty sketchy people.”
“Some people were stealing generators that were supposed to be powering traffic control devices. When they bolted those down, they chained them down, they started stealing the gas out of the generators.”
Snyder said homeowners are so fearful that looters will steal their backup generators, they’re stashing them in unsafe quarters. One house burned to the ground after the homeowner ran their generator in the garage, he said.
“It’s a Herculean task trying to restore infrastructure and normalcy to a community that’s so devastated,” he added.
Opportunistic looters began their sprees immediately after Ian pushed across the state, leaving several counties severely damaged.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno made an example out of four people who had been arrested last week, saying: “Right now, we have four cases of looting, and I’m proud to say they’re behind bars where they belong. Our residents are going to be safe.”
The Sheriff also released mug shots of the alleged looters: Omar Mejia Ortiz, 33, Valerie Celeste Salcedo Mena, 26, Brandon Mauricio Araya, 20, and Steve Eduardo Sanchez Araya, also 20, who were all taken in on charges of burglary of an unoccupied structure during a state of emergency, according to jail records.
Marceno also claimed three of the four were “here illegally in this country” and issued a stern warning, saying: “I’m not playing. We’re not playing … You might walk in. You’ll be carried out.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also offered a similar message to potential pillagers after sharing reports of people allegedly taking boats to islands and ransacking homes.
“I can tell you, in the state of Florida, you never know what may be lurking behind somebody’s home, and I would not wanna chance that if I were you, given that we’re a Second Amendment state,” DeSantis said.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked state attorneys to seek the longest pretrial detention possible to keep looters locked up “so they cannot commit new crimes.”
More than 1,000 people have been rescued since the storm, many from the islands of Sanibel, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach, all in Lee County, which were cut off from the mainland and have to be accessed by boat.
Rescue attempts are continuing and hundreds of thousands of residents are still awaiting their power to be restored.