Ian leaves widespread floodingcatastrophic infrastructure damage, and an unknown death toll after it made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon as one of the strongest hurricanes in US history.
At a news conference Thursday night, Governor Ron DeSantis said the death toll was too early to confirm. “We fully expect there will be mortality from this storm,” he said. He added that at least 700 rescues have been completed across the state, though it remains unclear how many more people are still trapped by the flooding. After surveying several coastal towns from the air on Thursday, DeSantis called the damage “indescribable.”
So far, officials in the hard-hit Lee County have reported five deaths. Officials in the vicinity Charlotte County reports seven deaths, and in Collier County, County Deputy Superintendent Dan Rodriguez told The Daily Beast that medical examiners are looking at a “small number” of possible hurricane-related deaths. There were also three storm-related deaths across Sarasota and Volusia Counties.
Speaking at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, DC on Thursday, President Joe Biden said Ian could be the only deadly hurricane in Florida’s history. “The numbers aren’t clear yet,” Biden said, “but we’re hearing early reports of what could be a major loss of life.”
After making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds on Thursday, Ian repeatedly lost power before regaining strength over the Atlantic. The storm is now expected to make a second landfall in South Carolina on Friday afternoon.
On Friday morning, National Weather Service said a life-threatening storm surge would affect the northeastern coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The storm’s winds are also expected to hit the coasts of South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina.
Although officials have issued warnings to residents in all states on Ian’s planned roads, concerns are particularly strong for those in the low-lying Charleston, South Carolina, where 9/10 residential areas are said to be prone to flooding due to high tides.
The National Hurricane Center said Biblical downpours accompanied by Ian threatened to push river flooding to record levels in Central Florida in the coming days. Up to half of roads in some areas of the state have been made impassable by flooding.
The collapse of some sections of the only bridge between the mainland and Sanibel Island — a holiday resort off Fort Myers — made the island inaccessible by road. At least two deaths on the island were confirmed late Thursday.
More than two million customers were still without power on Friday morning, according to the tracking website PowerOutage.us.
After the state of emergency was declared in South Carolina, the state’s emergency management department issued urgent advice on the Friday before Ian’s arrival. People in affected areas have been instructed to avoid walking in moving water or driving through flooded areas. “If there is a possibility of flash floods, move to higher ground,” the organization tweeted. “Don’t wait to be told to move.”