Florida residents wait for slow return of power in Ian's aftermath

Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian smashed into Florida and carved a path of destruction into the Carolinas, hundreds of thousands of people faced another day without electricity Tuesday, as rescuers pressed on with their search for anyone trapped inside homes.

'I think they should give power to the people who are most in need,' says Florida resident

Joe Shaw, top, and some friends navigate his flooded street in Geneva, Fla., on Tuesday after Lake Harney crested eight feet above sea level due to Hurricane Ian. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via The Associated Press)

Hurricane Ian may be long gone from Florida, but workers on the ground were pushing ahead Tuesday to restore power and search for anyone still trapped inside flooded or damaged homes.

The number of storm-related deaths has risen to at least 84 in recent days, both because of the dangers posed by cleaning up and as search-and-rescue crews comb through the hardest-hit areas. Officials said that as of Monday, more than 2,350 people had been rescued throughout the state.

At least 75 people were killed in Florida, five in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia since Ian made landfall on the Caribbean island on Sept. 27, a day before it reached Florida's Gulf Coast.

Power restoration is priority

Christina Barrett walks among the water-damaged furniture outside her home in North Port, Fla., on Tuesday. Residents along Florida's west coast are continuing to clean up after Hurricane Ian made landfall last week. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)

Ian knocked out power to 2.6 million customers across Florida after it roared ashore with 241 km/h winds and a powerful storm surge. State officials said they expect power to be restored by Sunday to customers whose power lines and other electric infrastructure is still intact.

In Naples, Kelly Sedgwick was just seeing news footage Monday of the devastation Ian had caused, thanks to power that was restored four days after the hurricane slammed into her Gulf Coast community of roughly 22,000 people.

She said she was "relieved" to have her power back and praised the crews for their hard work: "They've done a remarkable job."

A few miles north along the coast, in Bonita Springs, Catalina Mejilla's family wasn't as lucky. She was still using a borrowed generator to try to keep her kids and their grandfather cool amid the temperatures in the typically humid area that reached about 30 degrees Celsius.

"The heat is unbearable," Mejilla said. "When there's no power … we can't make food, we don't have gas."

She added: "I think they should give power to the people who are most in need."

Residents drive through a flooded neighbourhood in North Port, Fla., on Tuesday. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)

About 400,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without power Tuesday.

Power restoration is always a key challenge after major hurricanes, when high winds and flying debris can topple power lines or major parts of the electricity infrastructure.

Eric Silagy, chairman and CEO of Florida Power and Light, said the utility has invested $4 billion US over the last 10 years to harden its infrastructure by doing things such as burying more power lines, noting that 40 per cent of its distribution system is now underground.

Florida Power and Light — the largest provider in the state — is also using more technology such as drones to get a better picture of damage to the system. It uses sensors at substations that can alert them to flooding so they can shut off parts of the system before the water arrives.

During Ian, Silagy said he saw where those investments paid off. Concrete utility poles remained standing at Fort Myers Beach, where many homes and businesses were wiped away. The company also didn't lose a single transmission structure in the 12,875 kilometres it covers in Florida, he said.

The utility expects to have power restored to 95 per cent of its service areas by the end of Friday.

Storm is now a nor'easter

Residents behind a 'you loot, we shoot' sign clean up their flooded property in North Port, Fla., on Tuesday. Residents in the area continue to clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. (Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press)

President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, plan to visit Florida on Wednesday. The U.S. president was in Puerto Rico on Monday, promising to "rebuild it all" after Hurricane Fiona knocked out all power to the island two weeks ago.

Elsewhere, the hurricane's remnants, now a nor'easter, weren't done with the U.S. Heavy rain fell Tuesday from Philadelphia to Boston, though not enough to cause flooding.

The storm's onshore winds are causing some minor ocean flooding at high tide from North Carolina's Outer Banks to Long Island, New York.

"If people had not heeded warnings, I think it could have been a lot worse," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.