In the midst of the devastation from what was once Hurricane Ian, rescuers desperately searched for survivors on Florida’s west coast and power began to be restored to many affected by the storm.
The current death toll in Florida sits at 21, with many more expected. As many as 10,000 people in southwest Florida are unaccounted for. In TikTok videos and Facebook posts, worried families shared their desperate pleas and strangers answered their calls, even as local officials urged people to use official channels for help.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, state emergency management director Kevin Guthrie described a gruesome scene in Lee County where Ian smashed into the coast on Thursday with 150 mph winds and a massive storm surge of 10 feet or more.
“The water up over the rooftop, and we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it, and he could identify what appeared to be human remains,” he said. “We want to be transparent, but we just don’t know that number.”
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through streets that became rivers to save thousands of people trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that crews had gone door-to-door to more than 3,000 homes in the hardest-hit areas.
“There’s really been a Herculean effort,” he said.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden said Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history,” responsible for a “substantial loss of life.”
In Volusia County, one man fell and drowned in rising flood waters in his own home, while another drowned in a nearby canal, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The two who died in Sarasota were both elderly residents who relied on oxygen machines that lost power during the storm, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
In North Fort Myers, another man who relied on oxygen was narrowly saved when his neighbors used an extension cord to connect his oxygen machine to a neighbor’s generator, the New York Times reported.
Biden said Friday he was directing “every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors … I just want the people of Florida to know, we see what you’re going through and we’re with you.”
In an effort to help families communicate with loved ones, telecom companies are allowing other networks’ customers to roam on their cell towers, DeSantis said Friday.
More than 20,000 people across the state were in shelters as of Friday.
On Friday night, the Florida Department of Transportation closed Interstate 75 in both directions from North Port (Toledo Blade Boulevard) to Englewood (Jacaranda Boulevard) after rising water from the Myakka River made the highway no longer safe for travel. “Motorists planning on traveling on I-75 to southwest Florida should seek an alternative route,” transportation officials said.
Ian left a broad swath of destruction in Florida, flooding areas from its west to east coasts, tearing homes from their slabs, demolishing beachfront businesses and leaving more than 2.5 million homes and businesses without power. Thousands of utility workers, some from other states, are working to bring back electricity.
Statewide, 85% of Floridians had power; however, in the hard-hit counties of Lee, Charlotte, Collier and Sarasota, more than half of homes and businesses remained without electricity, DeSantis said Friday night.
“The biggest challenge with power restoration is going to be in those areas that bore the brunt of the Category 4 impact,” he said. “That’s going to be more than just connecting a powerline back to a pole.”
Thirteen Florida counties have been approved for federal assistance, and more are anticipated, Deanne Criswell Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday: “We are going to continue to be here to support the governor.”
Ian has likely caused “well over $100 billion’’ in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to the disaster modeling 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.
Businesses near Fort Myers Beach were completely razed, leaving twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats. Fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.
“I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,” William Goodison said amid the wreckage of a mobile home park where he’d lived for 11 years. Goodison said he rode out the storm at his son’s house inland.
The hurricane tore through the park of about 60 homes, leaving many destroyed or mangled beyond repair, including Goodison’s. Wading through waist-deep water, Goodison and his son wheeled two trash cans containing what little he could salvage — a portable air conditioner, some tools and a baseball bat.
The road into Fort Myers Beach was littered with broken trees, boat trailers and other debris. Cars were abandoned in the road, having stalled when the storm surge flooded their engines.
Firefighters rescued dozens of people from barrier islands near Fort Myers on Thursday and were back searching for victims on Friday, Chief Ray Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.
“You see a house totally washed out and it’s just nothing but a concrete slab on Fort Myers beach,” DeSantis said Friday morning. “You just pray to God that no one was in that.”
The governor went to Pine Island on Friday and vowed to restore the destroyed bridge that links it to the mainland. The bridge to nearly wiped-out Sanibel island was also destroyed.
Lee County is entirely without water due to a main break, DeSantis said Friday. The state is transporting 1.2 million gallons of water from Lakeland to Fort Myers to support hospitals there that have no potable water.
Without potable water, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida was forced to evacuate premature and ill babies to children’s hospitals in South Florida. The babies arrived by air ambulances and ground vehicles Friday, said Ronald Ford, chief medical officer of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
Ian had made landfall on the Florida mainland at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday just south of Punta Gorda, coming ashore with 145 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm previously made landfall on the island of Cayo Costa off Fort Myers.
Ian made another landfall as a Category 1 storm on the coast of South Carolina on Friday afternoon. As of 8 p.m., the post-tropical cyclone was about 45 miles northeast of Florence, S.C., moving north at 15 mph, with peak winds that decreased to 60 mph and tropical-storm-force winds that extend outward up to 205 miles.
The storm left many areas of Charleston’s downtown peninsula under water. It also washed way parts of four piers along the coast, including two at Myrtle Beach.
After the heaviest of the rainfall blew through Charleston, S.C., Will Shalosky examined a large elm tree in front of his house that had fallen across his downtown street. He noted the damage could have been much worse.
“If this tree has fallen a different way, it would be in our house,” Shalosky said. “It’s pretty scary, pretty jarring.”
The post-tropical cyclone will move farther inland across central North Carolina into Saturday, where it is forecast to dissipate.
Hurricane warnings and watch areas have been discontinued, but a storm surge warning was in effect for parts of North Carolina.
On Friday, Central Florida also was digging out after Ian brought heavy rainfall and flooding across the region. Rivers overflowed onto major streets. Some bodies of water, like Shingle Creek near Kissimmee, broke records, reaching the highest levels ever reported.
Flooding is expected to continue across Central Florida into next week, the National Hurricane Center said Friday.
Parts of east central Florida, such as New Smyrna Beach, received up to 20 inches of accumulated rainfall between Tuesday and Friday. Much of Orlando had received over 14 inches by Thursday, city officials said in a news conference.
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In the cities of Kissimmee and New Smyrna Beach, residents and local media outlets shared pictures and videos of major streets flooded with water and cars keeling into puddles of unknown depths.
In South Florida, much of the destruction occurred Tuesday night, when Ian spawned at least two tornadoes in Broward County and one in Palm Beach County, the National Weather Service said. A tornado near Kings Point, close to Delray Beach, toppled trees, wrecked cars, damaged apartments, and displaced 35 people.
On Friday night, swells generated by Ian and a nearby frontal system were affecting the east coast of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and the northwestern Bahamas with the potential to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
A tropical wave off the African coast has a 70% chance of developing in the next five days, the hurricane center said, forming a tropical depression early next week as the system moves westward to west-northwestward over the eastern tropical Atlantic.
The next named storm to form would be Julia.
Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Sun Sentinel staff writers Keven Lerner and Rafael Omeda contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.