Florida death toll rises to 67 after Hurricane Ian

(CNN) — Days after Hurricane Ian hit Florida, shocked residents are still assessing the damage left by record-breaking storm surge, damaging winds and catastrophic flooding that left some areas of the Sunshine State unrecognizable.

Ian killed at least 67 people in Florida when he engulfed homes in his raging waters, swept away roads and downed power lines. Four people also died in incidents related to the storm system in North Carolina, authorities say.

Nearly 900,000 customers in Florida were still without power as of early Sunday, according to PowerOutage.us. More than 30,000 were without power in North Carolina.

The hurricane, expected to rank as the costliest in Florida history, made landfall as a Category 4 on Wednesday and weakened to a post-tropical cyclone on Saturday, dropping rain over parts of West Virginia and western Florida. Maryland.

While sunshine has returned to Florida, many grapple with the sobering consequences of Ian: a power grid that can take weeks to fix, homes destroyed, landmarks damaged, and loved ones lost.

The devastation spread from Florida’s coastal towns to inland cities like Orlando, but was felt most intensely in southwestern coastal communities like Fort Myers and Naples.

Crews had rescued and evacuated more than 1,070 people from flooded areas in southwestern and central Florida and transported 78 people from a flooded senior care facility as of Saturday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said in a statement. a Press release.

The US Coast Guard also carried out rescues, navigating through challenging post-storm conditions, Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson told CNN.

“We fly and operate in areas that are unrecognizable,” he said. “There are no traffic signs. They don’t look like they used to. Buildings that were once landmarks in the community are no longer there.”

Many of the deaths related to Ian have been reported in Lee County in southwest Florida, which includes Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, where at least 35 people have died.

Local officials are facing criticism over whether mandatory evacuations in Lee County should have been issued sooner. Officials didn’t order the evacuations until less than 24 hours before the storm made landfall, and a day after several neighboring counties issued their orders.

Sanibel: from tourist paradise to ”war zone” 0:55

DeSantis on Saturday defended the timing of Lee County’s evacuation orders, saying they came as soon as the tropical cyclone’s projected track moved south, putting the area in Ian’s sights.

The Florida death toll also includes 12 deaths in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County and one each in Polk, Lake, Hendry and Manatee counties. according to the authorities.

President Joe Biden reiterated his federal support for Florida, saying Hurricane Ian was “probably among the worst … in the history of the country.”

The President and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Puerto Rico on Monday to survey damage from Hurricane Fiona and then head to Florida on Wednesday, according to a White House statement.

Members of mediccorps.org help evacuate Tom Acerbo after Hurricane Ian in Pine Island, Florida, on Saturday.

Rescue efforts continue days after Ian’s arrival

After Hurricane Ian finished its devastating advance over Florida, residents came out to survey damaged homes, pick up debris and maneuver through flooded roadways.

The Florida National Guard is working search and rescue missions with local authorities throughout Southwest and Central Florida on Saturday, pulling distressed residents out of flooded areas and ferrying some to safety by helicopter, according to the governor.

People on Sanibel and Captiva islands were cut off from the mainland after the cyclone destroyed parts of a causeway, leaving boats and helicopters the only options for getting out.

Civilian volunteer groups are working to help residents get out of Sanibel, where aerial footage has shown that many cabins lining the island’s shores were razed to the ground.

Sanibel Island resident Andy Boyle was on the island when the hurricane hit. He said he lost his house and two cars, but he feels lucky to be alive.

“A lot of people have very expensive, well-built houses on Sanibel and they felt that with their multimillion-dollar homes built like fortresses, they would be fine,” Boyle said.

Boyle was facing the cyclone at home when the roof of the dining room collapsed. “That’s when we started to worry,” he said.

He described flagging down a National Guard plane the next day in front of his home and seeing the scenes of devastation around the island.

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“When you go to the eastern end of the island, there is a lot of destruction. The houses surrounding the lighthouse disappeared. When you go to the west end of the island, the old restaurants there are gone. The street that goes to Captiva is now a beach,” Boyle said.

The US Coast Guard plans to evacuate people from Pine Island in Lee County through Sunday, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Residents were also evacuated from the Hidden River area of ​​Sarasota County after a compromised levee threatened to flood homes, the sheriff’s office said Saturday.

A man inside his destroyed mobile home after Hurricane Ian in Matlacha, Fla., on Saturday. (Credit: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images)

Ian’s damage has been extensive and power may be out for weeks

Further complicating recovery is the lack of electricity and irregular communication in the affected areas.

It could take up to a week starting Sunday before power is restored to storm-damaged counties, said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company. And some customers may not come back online for “weeks or months” because some buildings with structural damage will need safety inspections.

According to PowerOutage.us, about 65% of all power outages in Florida due to the cyclone had been restored as of early Sunday morning.

Ian left boats in the middle of the street in his wake 2:04

Florida is also working with Elon Musk and the Starlink satellite to help restore communication in the state, according to DeSantis. “They are positioning those Starlink satellites to provide good coverage in Southwest Florida and other affected areas,” DeSantis said.

First responders in Lee County will be among those receiving Starlink devices.

Fort Myers Councilmember Liston Bochette told CNN the city was hit hard, with “major issues” in the city’s water, power and sewer systems.

In Charlotte County, residents are “facing a tragedy” without homes, power or water, said Claudette Smith, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

“We need everything, to put it plain and simple. We need everything. We need all hands on deck,” Smith told CNN on Friday. “The people who have come to our aid have been very helpful, but we need everything.”

Hurricane Ian may have caused as much as $47 million in insured losses in Florida, according to an estimate by property analytics firm CoreLogic, which could make it the costliest storm in the state’s history.

Ian’s Impact on North Carolina and South Carolina

After pummeling Florida, Ian made its second landfall in the United States near Georgetown, South Carolina, on Friday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane, and began pummeling the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas with fierce winds and rain. .

In North Carolina, the four storm-related deaths include a man who drowned when his truck plunged into 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 locked garage, according to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.

No deaths have been reported in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said Saturday.

Workers and owners of a large shrimp boat prepare their boat to be towed back into the water Saturday after Hurricane Ian swept through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (Credit: Jonathan Drake/Archyde.com)

The cyclone flooded homes and submerged vehicles along the South Carolina coast. Two piers, one on Pawleys Island and one on North Myrtle Beach, partially collapsed as strong winds pushed the water even higher.

Edgar Stephens, who manages the Cherry Grove Pier in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was yards away when a 100-foot section of the center of the pier crashed into the ocean.

Stephens noted that the Cherry Grove Pier is a staple for both community members and tourists.

“We are a destination, not just a fishing pier,” Stephens said.

CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn, Chris Boyette, Andy Rose, Amanda Musa, Jamiel Lynch, Joe Sutton, Dave Alsup, Virginia Langmaid, Gregory Clary, Paradise Afshar, Jason Hanna and Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.

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