The missing leg of the damaged Sanibel Lighthouse has been located. What are the next steps?

The missing leg of the iconic Sanibel Lighthouse was located this week, almost a month after Hurricane Ian ravaged the tiny island and historic landmark.

The leg was found broken in three pieces and laying in the sand by officials. It is alleged that when the storm surge swept through the area, it lifted the houses adjacent to the lighthouse, known as the keeper homes.

Combined with winds of more than 155 mph, the houses knocked into tower and the leg was ripped out.

The foundation to its ground-level stairs was also lost during the storm.

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While officials believed the original leg could be reattached onto the 138-year-old structure, Celina Kersh, president of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, says that might no longer be a reality.

"The structural engineer has just indicated to me (Wednesday) that though we were initially thinking about (reattaching the leg), what I would call building Humpty Dumpty back together again, we will probably not be able to do that," Kersh said. "We'll have to have a new leg cast out of the same material because the way the leg broke, the way the pieces broke … they don't think they're going to be structurally strong enough to reknit back together."

The Sanibel Lighthouse in the 1940s
The Sanibel Lighthouse in the 1940s

'Safest place on the island'

Over the last century, the lighthouse was considered a haven for residents during hurricanes. Not having causeway or even a bridge to escape over to mainland to, Kersh said community members would shelter down in the lighthouse since it was the "safest place on the island."

"Because the tower is still standing, although it has a missing leg, it shows how how structurally stable that tower actually was," Kersh said.

Prior to Ian's hit, Kersh said they had been in the process of investigating the opportunity with the city to have the homes near the lighthouses restored.

"They are the buildings on the island. They were the oldest buildings on the island to exist, built in 1884," Kersh said. "So, they're an iconic symbol of Sanibel since it first became an island to vacation on, I would say that started in the late 1800s."

The goal was to make the homes available to public and turn them into museums that displayed the history maritime life.

Unfortunately, the keeper homes were lost within the 12-foot storm surge.

However, Kersh said they are still working with the city and others on the possibility of restoring the  keeper houses.

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Relight the Sanibel Lighthouse

Going forward, the city and the U.S. Coast Guard are working together to relight the lighthouse. While the city of Sanibel owns the lighthouse, the Coast Guard operates the light.  Efforts to reach the Coast Guard for comment were unsuccessful.

Kersh said since the tower is older, they are consulting with lighthouse experts from throughout the state on how to proceed with the restoration process. The next phase of their investigation will be to look at the whole tower in terms of what other restoration could be needed.

Throughout this process, she said it has been heartwarming to see the support from both the community and the world.

"People all over the world who come to vacation on Sanibel, it touches them deeply," Kersh said. "I think that the lighthouse has always been the iconic symbol of Sanibel, being the oldest building on the island."

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Sanibel Lighthouse's missing leg has been found, broken in 3 places