Storm Ian lashes South Carolina as U.S. death toll rises to 17; hard-hit Florida starts cleanup
Ian made landfall in S.C. as hurricane but since weakened to post-tropical cyclone
A revived Hurricane Ian pounded coastal South Carolina on Friday, ripping apart piers and flooding streets after the ferocious storm caused catastrophic damage in Florida, trapping thousands in their homes and leaving at least 17 people dead.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the deaths included a 22-year-old woman who was ejected from an ATV rollover on Friday because of a road washout in Manatee County and a 71-year-old man who died of head injuries when he fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters on Wednesday. Many of the other deaths involved people who drowned, including a 68-year-old woman who was swept into the ocean by a wave.
Another three people died in Cuba as the storm made its way north earlier in the week as the storm churned northward. The death toll was expected to increase substantially once emergency officials have an opportunity to search many of the hardest-hit areas.
Ian's centre came ashore near Georgetown with much weaker winds than when it crossed Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. As it moved across South Carolina, Ian dropped from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone.
Sheets of rain whipped trees and power lines and left many areas on Charleston's downtown peninsula under water. A popular pier in the beach community of Pawleys Island collapsed and floated away. In Myrtle Beach, waves pushed against the boardwalk tourist area.
Ian left a broad swath of destruction after it came ashore Wednesday on Florida's Gulf Coast as one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. The storm flooded areas on both of Florida's coasts, tore homes from their slabs, demolished beachfront businesses and left more than two million people without power.
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through the streets Thursday to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings .
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said rescue crews have gone door-to-door to more than 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
"There's really been a Herculean effort," he said Friday during a news conference in Tallahassee.
Climate change added at least 10 per cent more rain to Hurricane Ian, according to a study prepared immediately after the storm, said its co-author, climate scientist Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Among those killed were an 80-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man who relied on oxygen machines that stopped working amid power outages, as well as a a 67-year-old man who was waiting to be rescued died after falling into rising water inside his home, authorities said.
Officials fear the death toll could rise substantially, given the wide territory swamped by the storm.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said responders have focused so far on "hasty" searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments, which will be followed by two additional waves of searches. Initial responders who come across possible remains are leaving them without confirming, he said Friday, describing as an example the case of a submerged home.
"The water was up over the rooftop, right, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify that it appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many," Guthrie said.
'There's water everywhere'
Desperate to locate and rescue their loved ones, social media users shared phone numbers, addresses and photos of their family members and friends online for anyone who can check on them.
Orlando residents returned to flooded homes Friday, rolling up their pants to wade through muddy, knee-high water in their streets. Friends of Ramon Rodriguez dropped off ice, bottled water and hot coffee at the entrance to his subdivision, where 10 of the 50 homes were flooded and the road looked like a lake. He had no power or food at his house, and his car was trapped by the water.
"There's water everywhere," Rodriguez said. "The situation here is pretty bad."
University of Central Florida students living at an apartment complex near the Orlando campus arrived to retrieve possessions from their waterlogged units.
Deandra Smith, a nursing student, was asleep when others evacuated and stayed in her third-floor apartment with her dog. Other students helped get her to dry land Friday by pushing her through the flooded parking lot on a pontoon. She wasn't sure if she should go back to her parents home in South Florida or find a shelter so she can still attend classes. "I'm still trying to figure it out," she said.
The devastating storm surge destroyed many older homes on the barrier island of Sanibel, Fla., and gouged crevices into its sand dunes. Taller condominium buildings were intact but with the bottom floor blown out. Trees and utility poles were strewn everywhere.
Municipal rescuers, private teams and the Coast Guard used boats and helicopters Friday to evacuate residents who stayed for the storm and then were cut off from the mainland when a causeway collapsed. Volunteers who went to the island on personal watercraft helped escort an elderly couple to an area where Coast Guard rescuers took them aboard a helicopter.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. Ian made landfall in South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h. When it hit Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 240 km/h.
After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street.
"If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house," Shalosky said. "It's pretty scary, pretty jarring."
In North Carolina, heavy rain bands and winds crept into the state Friday afternoon. Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to be vigilant, given that up to 20 centimetres of rain could fall in some areas, with high winds.
"Hurricane Ian is at our door. Expect drenching rain and sustained heavy winds over most of our state," Cooper said. "Our message today is simple: Be smart and be safe."
'Months, years to rebuild'
In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was directing "every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors."
"It's going to take months, years to rebuild," Biden said.
"I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you're going through and we're with you."