Early reports show ‘what may be substantial loss of life’ after Hurricane Ian, Biden says

Rescue workers continued to search through wreckage and floodwaters for stranded people after Hurricane Ian left a path of destruction in southwest Florida. U.S. President Joe Biden warned it could be the deadliest hurricane in the state’s history, with early reports suggesting ‘what may be substantial loss of life.’

Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through flooded streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped in homes and buildings shattered by Hurricane Ian, which crossed into the Atlantic Ocean and churned toward South Carolina.

Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening after reemerging over the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted it would hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Friday.

Hurricane #Ian Advisory 29: Ian Becomes a Hurricane Again. Taking Aim At the Carolinas and Georgia With Life-Threatening Flooding, Storm Surge and Strong Winds. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB


The devastation inflicted on Florida came into focus a day after Ian struck as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. It flooded homes on both the state’s coasts, cut off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses — nearly a quarter of utility customers.

Four people were confirmed dead in Florida. They included two residents of hard-hit Sanibel Island along Florida’s west coast, Sanibel city manager Dana Souza said late Thursday. Three people were reportedly killed in Cuba after the hurricane struck the island on Tuesday.

Hurricane Ian downed a stoplight in downtown Orlando, Fla., on Thursday. The storm has left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press)

In the Fort Myers area, homes had been ripped from their slabs and deposited among shredded wreckage. Businesses near the beach were completely razed, leaving twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats and fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.

“I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,” William Goodison said while surveying the wreckage of the mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach where he’d lived for 11 years. He rode out the storm at his son’s house inland.

The hurricane tore through the park of about 60 homes and many of them, including Goodison’s single-wide trailer, were destroyed or mangled beyond repair. 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 was littered with broken trees, boat trailers and other debris. Cars were left abandoned in the roadway, having stalled when the storm surge flooded their engines.

Nothing like it before

“We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a news conference. “The amount of water that’s been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flooding event.”

After leaving Florida as a tropical storm Thursday and entering the Atlantic north of Cape Canaveral, Ian spun up into a hurricane again with winds of 120 km/h. 

A hurricane warning was issued for South Carolina’s coast and extended to Cape Fear on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. With tropical-storm force winds reaching 665 kilometres from its centre, Ian was forecast to shove storm surge of 1.5 metres into coastal areas in Georgia and the Carolinas. Rainfall of up to 20.32 centimetres threatened flooding from South Carolina to Virginia.

National Guard troops were being positioned in South Carolina to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues. On Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of vehicles left Charleston, a 350-year-old city.

Sheriffs in southwest Florida said 911 centres were inundated by thousands of stranded callers, some with life-threatening emergencies. The U.S. Coast Guard began rescue efforts hours before daybreak on barrier islands near where Ian struck, DeSantis said. More than 800 members of federal urban search-and-rescue teams were also in the area.

WATCH | Ian’s path was catastrophic and massive: 

Hurricane Ian causes massive destruction in Florida

Hurricane Ian brought widespread damage and devastating flooding across Florida’s west coast while early reports suggest many people lost their lives due to the storm. Now, South Carolina and Georgia brace for Ian’s impact as the storm heads northeast.

In the Orlando area, Orange County firefighters used boats to reach people in a flooded neighbourhood. Patients from a nursing home were carried on stretchers across floodwaters to a bus.

In Fort Myers, Valerie Bartley’s family spent desperate hours holding a dining room table against their patio door, fearing the storm raging outside “was tearing our house apart.”

“I was terrified,” Bartley said. “What we heard was the shingles and debris from everything in the neighbourhood hitting our house.”

In this aerial view, cars sit in floodwater near downtown Orlando on Thursday. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

The storm ripped away patio screens and snapped a palm tree, Bartley said, but left the roof intact and her family unharmed.

Long lines formed at gas stations and a Home Depot opened, letting in a few customers at a time.

Frank Pino was near the back of the line, with about 100 people in front of him.

“I hope they leave something,” he said, “because I need almost everything.”

A 72-year-old man died after he fell into a canal in Deltona, Fla., while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. A 38-year-old man from Lake County died Wednesday after his vehicle hydroplaned, according to authorities. 

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said his office was scrambling to respond to thousands of 911 calls in the Fort Myers area, but many roads and bridges were impassable.

This morning Sheriff Carmine Marceno took a tour of Lee County to begin assessing damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
We are devastated. Our hearts go out to every resident who is impacted. The Lee County Sheriffs Office is mobile and will stop at nothing to help our residents. pic.twitter.com/S4OsB8ajRv


Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach stranded people. Many in the hardest-hit areas couldn’t call for help because of power outages.

A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live. 

No deaths or injuries had been confirmed in the surrounding county, and flyovers of barrier islands show “the integrity of the homes is far better than we anticipated,” said county official Patrick Fuller.

South of Sanibel Island, the historic beachfront pier in Naples was destroyed, with even the pilings torn out. “Right now, there is no pier,” said Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor.

Damaged and flooded homes are seen in this still image taken from video in Lee County, Fla., on Thursday after Hurricane Ian tore through the area. (WPLG-TV/ABC/Reuters)

In Port Charlotte, a hospital’s emergency room flooded and fierce winds ripped away part of the roof, sending water gushing into the intensive care unit. The sickest patients — some on ventilators — were crowded into the middle two floors as staff prepared for storm victims to arrive, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital.

Ian struck Florida with 241 km/h winds that tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.

While scientists generally avoid blaming climate change for specific storms without detailed analysis, Ian’s watery destruction fits what scientists have predicted for a warmer world: stronger and wetter hurricanes, though not necessarily more of them.

“This business about very, very heavy rain is something we’ve expected to see because of climate change,” said MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel. “We’ll see more storms like Ian.”

An aerial view shows the partially collapsed Sanibel Causeway in Sanibel Island, Fla., Thursday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)