Ian Damages Sanibel Island, a popular tourist destination (VIDEO)

A popular tourist destination in Florida, Sanibel Island was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian and gave rescuers a hard time.

The trip to Sanibel Island is one of dread. It’s Mayor Holly Smith’s first look at the damage since she evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ian’s vicious onslaught on Florida’s southwest coast.

“It was a complex storm because we couldn’t see where it was going,” Smith said. “It turned out to be the perfect storm of everything we had feared for decades.”

Sanibel is now only accessible by plane or boat. Hurricane Ian washed away large parts of its causeway.

“Our island is a gem. People come from all over the world to see our island,” Smith said.

It is a tourist destination that also attracts nature lovers who have made it their home, such as Eden Sherman.

“We moved for the nature, for the wildlife. It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful, the beaches, the seashells. So peaceful. It will take years to get back to normal,” Sherman said.

Sherman’s house is surrounded by surging storm water. She waited nervously with her dogs, as did Michele and Whitey Herman, who brought their six corgis to higher ground in their home.

“We took the highest ground we could, over the kitchen counter with one of those pool floats. We had them all on a leash and were planning if we had to float out the front door,” said Whitey.

Newsy’s John Mone was allowed to board a ferry which carried residents off the island, on the condition that he could not leave to watch on dry land. But even the view from the boat showed signs of devastation.

The island of just under 7,000 people is a microcosm for Southwest Florida’s post-hurricane problems – no water, no electricity and no passable roads, making work difficult for rescuers.

“Search and rescue is ongoing as we speak. We’re going to anyone in need. We’re going to get through this,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said.

But for now, the road ahead is a slow exodus from a lost paradise.

While on the ferry with Mayor Smith, Newsy learned of two confirmed deaths related to the storm. This number could increase in the coming days.