Days after Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida, residents are still assessing the damage left by record high storm surge, damaging winds and catastrophic flooding that left some parts of the Sunshine State unrecognizable.
At least 66 people were killed by Ian in Florida as it engulfed homes in its raging rushing waters, erased roads and shredded power lines. Four people also died in storm-related incidents in North Carolina, officials say.
According to PowerOutage.us, nearly 900,000 Florida customers had no power early Sunday morning. More than 30,000 were without power in North Carolina.
The hurricane — expected to be the costliest storm in Florida history — made landfall on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 and had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone on Saturday, with rain falling over parts of West Virginia and western Maryland.
As the sun has returned to Florida, many there are battling Ian’s sobering aftermath: a grid that can take weeks to repair, destroyed homes, damaged monuments, and lost loved ones.
The devastation stretched from Florida’s coastal towns to inland cities like Orlando, but was most felt in southwestern coastal communities, such as Fort Myers and Naples.
Crews had rescued and evacuated more than 1,070 people from flooded areas in southwest and central Florida on Saturday morning and transported 78 people from a flooded retirement home, Governor Ron DeSantis’s office said in a press release.
The U.S. Coast Guard also conducted rescues and navigated challenging conditions after the storm, Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson told DailyExpertNews.
“We fly and we operate in areas that are unrecognizable,” he said. “There are no street signs. They don’t look like they used to. Buildings that were once community standards are no more.”
Many of the Ian-related deaths have been reported in Southwest Florida’s Lee County, including Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, where at least 35 people died.
Local officials have been criticized for whether mandatory evacuations in Lee County should have happened sooner. Officials there did not order an evacuation until less than 24 hours before the storm made landfall, and a day after several neighboring provinces issued their orders.
DeSantis Saturday defended the timing of Lee County’s orders, saying they were given as soon as the storm’s projected path shifted south, putting the area in Ian’s crosshairs.
The storm’s toll in Florida also includes 12 deaths in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County and one in Polk, Lake and Manatee counties.
President Joe Biden continued to pledge federal aid to Florida, saying Hurricane Ian is “probably one of the worst… in the country’s history.”
According to a statement from the White House, President and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Puerto Rico Monday to assess damage from Hurricane Fiona and then head to Florida.
After Hurricane Ian ended its devastating run over Florida, residents came forward, inspecting damaged homes, picking up debris and maneuvering swampy roads.
The Florida National Guard worked Saturday on search and rescue missions with local authorities in southwestern and central Florida, pulling distressed residents from flooded areas and bringing some to safety by helicopter, the governor said.
People in the Sanibel and Captiva Islands were cut off from the mainland after sections of a causeway were destroyed by the storm, leaving boats and helicopters their only way out.
Groups of citizen volunteers were at work helping residents get out of Sanibel, where aerial photos have shown many cottages along the island’s coast were swept away.
Sanibel Island resident Andy Boyle was on the island when the hurricane hit. He said he lost his house and two cars, but he’s lucky he’s still alive.
“A lot of people have very expensive, well-built homes on Sanibel, and they thought their multimillion-dollar homes built like fortresses would be okay,” Boyle said.
Boyle was driving home through the storm when the roof of the dining room collapsed. “Then we started to worry,” he said.
He described waving to National Guard planes in front of his house the next day and seeing the devastation around the island.
“If you go to the east side of the island, there’s just a lot of destruction. The houses around the lighthouse are all gone. If you go to the west side of the island, the old restaurants there, they’re all gone. The street leading to Captiva is now a beach,” Boyle said.
The U.S. Coast Guard plans to evacuate people from Pine Island in Lee County during the daytime on Sunday, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Residents were also evacuated from the Hidden River area of Sarasota County after a degraded levee threatened to flood homes, the sheriff’s office said Saturday.
Further complicating recovery is the lack of electricity and spotty communications in affected areas.
According to Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, it could take up to a week to restore power in storm-damaged counties. And some customers may not be back on the grid for “weeks or months” because some buildings with structural damage require safety inspections.
According to PowerOutage.us, about 65% of all Florida power outages as a result of the storm were cleared by early Sunday.
Florida is too working with Elon Musk and Starlink satellite to restore communications in the state, according to DeSantis. “They’re positioning those Starlink satellites to provide good coverage in Southwest Florida and other affected areas,” DeSantis said.
Emergency services in Lee County will be among those receiving Starlink devices.
Fort Myers Councilman Liston Bochette told DailyExpertNews the city was hit hard, with “major problems” with the city’s water, electricity and sewage systems.
In Charlotte County, residents are “facing a tragedy” with no homes, electricity or water supplies, said Claudette Smith, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
“We need everything, to put it simply. We need everything. We need all hands on deck,” Smith told DailyExpertNews on Friday. “The people who have come to our rescue have been tremendously helpful, but we really need everything.”
Hurricane Ian may have caused as much as $47 billion in insured losses in Florida, according to an estimate by real estate analysis firm CoreLogic — which could make it the costliest storm in state history.
After toppling Florida, Ian made its second US landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina, Friday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane and began thrashing the Georgia and Carolinas coasts with raging winds and rain.
In North Carolina, the four storm-related deaths include a man who drowned when his truck ended up in a flooded swamp; two people who died in separate crashes; and a man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator in a closed garage, according to Governor Roy Cooper’s office.
No deaths have been reported in South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster said Saturday.
The storm has flooded homes and vehicles along the South Carolina coastline. Two piers — one on Pawleys Island and another in North Myrtle Beach — partially collapsed as high winds pushed the water even higher.
Edgar Stephens, who manages Cherry Grove Pier in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was standing feet away when a 30-foot stretch from the center of the pier plunged into the ocean.
Stephens said the Cherry Grove Pier is a staple for community members and tourists alike.
“We’re a destination, not just a fishing pier,” Stephens said.