It could take 6 months to identify people killed by Hurricane Ian

It's been two weeks since Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida and officials are still trying to get in contact with hundreds of missing people. 

Search and recovery efforts have been underway ever since the storm, but the sheer level of destruction is making finding people much more difficult.

Searching for loved ones among a mangled mess of boats, cars, homes and debris is unlike any recovery mission crews in Southwest Florida have ever faced.

"The cable guys are finding bodies in the woods. The electrical power line guys are finding bodies and the bodies are just everywhere," explained Florida Gulf Coast University Professor of Forensic Studies Dr. David Thomas said.

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Dr. Thomas a professor of forensics studies at Florida Gulf Coast University and a former police officer who helped recover victims in the 9-11 attacks is in close contact with officials conducting the recovery mission in Fort Myers.

"They are literally going to go into every building and search that building and then mark it so people will know that if bodies were found, they have certain symbols they use and then if no bodies were found, but they will clear that building," Dr. Thomas said.

hurricane ian missing

According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, there are still 658 welfare checks being investigated which means 658 people who have yet to be counted. According to protocol, those people cannot officially be reported missing until the welfare check is made. In some cases the home is simply gone, leaving the welfare check open.

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"When you have anybody that has been in water or has been exposed to Florida's environment and exposed to the animals and all the little critters that we have, when you have that, there's going to be decomposition of the body," Dr. Thomas said.

As Dr. Thomas explains, unidentified bodies have likely been recovered and are now with the medical examiner's office, but those numbers aren't released until the person is identified.

"If this is done in six months I think it will be a miracle just because of how bad that devastation is," Dr. Thomas said.

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Dr. Thomas says identifying victims is one of the toughest aspects of the recovery mission. In some cases, they'll request DNA from loved ones and compare that with DNA from all the identified victims to see if there are any matches.

If you are still looking for a loved one, the state is encouraging you to fill out a report online if you haven't already you can do so by visiting