Rescuers in Florida search for survivors as Carolinas stunned by Hurricane Ian's damage
At least 34 now confirmed dead with fatalities in Florida, the Carolinas, Cuba
Dozens of Florida residents left their flooded and splintered homes by boat and by air on Saturday as rescuers continued to search for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Ian, while authorities in South Carolina and North Carolina began taking stock of their losses.
The death toll from the storm, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States, grew to nearly three dozen, with deaths reported from Cuba, Florida and North Carolina. The storm weakened Saturday as it rolled into the mid-Atlantic, but not before it washed out bridges and piers, hurdled massive boats into buildings onshore and sheared roofs off homes, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
At least 34 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida — mostly from drowning but others from the storm's tragic aftereffects. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said.
As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida's southwestern coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and head of the National Guard, told The Associated Press while airborne to Florida.
About 1.4 million homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas and Florida as of 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, down from 1.7 million at 8 a.m., according to tracking website PowerOutage.us.
South Carolina's Pawleys Island, a beach community about 117 kilometres up the coast from Charleston, was among the places hardest hit by Ian. Power remained knocked out to at least half of the island on Saturday.
A city-commissioned report released in November 2020 found that about 90 per cent of all residential properties were vulnerable to storm-surge flooding.
The storm's winds were much weaker on Friday than during Ian's landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast earlier in the week. There authorities and volunteers were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of what they just lived through.
Fatalities reported in North Carolina
In North Carolina, the storm claimed at least four lives and appeared to have mainly downed trees and power lines, leaving more than 280,000 people across the state without power Saturday morning, officials said.
Separate vehicle crashes claimed two lives in the storm, the North Carolina officials said. One man drowned when his truck plunged into a swamp, and another man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a closed garage.
"We mourn with the families of those who have died and urge everyone to be cautious while cleaning up to avoid more deaths or injuries," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
There were no initial reports of major structural damage, although more than 241,600 people across the state were without power Saturday afternoon, according to North Carolina Emergency Management.
Scrambling to escape
Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first-floor apartment in Fort Myers during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they hurried to escape the rising water, the storm surge had washed a boat right up next to his apartment.
"That's the scariest thing in the world because I can't stop no boat," he said. "I'm not Superman."
On Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida's Gulf Coast, houses were reduced to splinters and boats littered roadways as a volunteer group went door-to-door Saturday, asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated. Helen Koch blew her husband a kiss and mouthed the words "I love you" as she sat inside a rescue helicopter that was lifting her and seven of the couple's 17 dogs to safety.
River flooding posed a major challenge to rescue and supply delivery efforts. The Myakka River washed over a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a temporary highway closure Saturday on the key corridor linking Tampa to the north with the hard-hit southwest Florida region that straddles Port Charlotte and Fort Myers.
Later Saturday, state officials said, water levels had receded enough that I-75 could be fully reopened. However, they said monitors were out keeping close watch on constantly changing river levels.
While rising waters in Florida's southwest rivers have crested or are near cresting, the levels aren't expected to drop significantly for days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming in Tampa.
Woman swept into ocean
"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.
The dead included a 68-year-old woman swept into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who fell into rising water inside his home while awaiting rescue.
Authorities also said a 22-year-old woman died after an ATV rollover from a road washout, and a 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a rooftop while putting up rain shutters. Another three people died in Cuba earlier in the week.
Hurricane Ian has likely caused "well over" $100 billion US in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modelling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly issues flash catastrophe estimates. If those numbers are borne out, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
With files from Reuters