Though the death toll presently remains unconfirmed, it is feared “hundreds” may have succumbed to the storm, which ripped through Florida on Wednesday night, leaving over 2.6 million people without power and stranding countless others waiting for rescue.
Damage is still being assessed across the Florida peninsula, where Hurricane Ian’s “relatively slow” speed allowed the storm to dump record amounts of rain, triggering multiple flash flood emergencies and river flooding.
Moving at roughly 8 miles an hour, the storm maintained hurricane strength for several hours, until it was demoted to tropical storm status (with 65 mph winds) just south of Orlando, which saw over a foot of rain. It has since been upgraded to a Category 1 storm.
At FEMA headquarters on Thursday, US President Biden officially declared Ian a major disaster and warned the storm could be the “deadliest” in Florida’s history. A representative from FEMA affirmed the agency is “supporting search and rescue efforts.”
Storm surge got into our WINK studios in Fort Myers, flooded the entire first floor. Lost power and was unable to continue broadcasting on tv/radio. No timetable on return to air. #Ian was the strongest hurricane in Southwest Florida history. Widespread destruction heading home. pic.twitter.com/w6is0EXcpD
— Matt Devitt (@MattDevittWINK) September 29, 2022
— Jeremy Bower (@jrbstorm) September 29, 2022
“The numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be [a] substantial loss of life.”
On Good Morning America, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said fatalities were potentially “in the hundreds,” with “thousands” of people still waiting to be rescued.
According to Maceno, his office has received “thousands” of 911 calls from people needing rescue in Lee County, which includes Cape Coral and Fort Myers, but given the extent of the storm’s damage, roadways and bridges were still impassable.
“It crushed us,” Marceno said. “We still cannot access many of the people that are in need.”
— corinne_perkins (@corinne_perkins) September 29, 2022
— Smurph (@swmurfl) September 29, 2022
The US Coast Guard also began attempting rescues on Florida’s barrier islands on Thursday, according to a statement made by Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press briefing.
“The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops,” DeSantis said. “We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude … 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.”
As of 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Ian had knocked out power to over 2.6 million customers in Florida – approximately 24% of the state’s customers – according to local outage maps.
DeSantis also told reporters that the entirety of Lee and Charlotte counties were without power and would require entirely rebuilt infrastructure.
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
— Carmine Marceno – Florida’s Law and Order Sheriff (@SheriffLeeFL) September 29, 2022
The president intends to visit Florida to meet with first responders once conditions allow.
Georgia and South Carolina Brace for Second Landfall
The US National Hurricane Center says Ian’s maximum sustained winds increased Thursday to 75 mph. It was centered about 240 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, and moving northeast at 10 mph – a slightly faster pace than Florida saw on Wednesday.
The storm is projected to make landfall once again Friday morning near Charleston, prompting a hurricane warning for the state’s entire coast.
9/29 11am EDT: There is the danger of life-threatening storm surge from #Ian along the coasts of northeast FL, GA, SC, & the Neuse River, NC, where a storm surge warning is in effect. Residents should follow advice from local officials & check https://t.co/0BMJEA5Wz0 for updates. pic.twitter.com/h7h6ZevGhx
— NHC Storm Surge (@NHC_Surge) September 29, 2022
The storm’s slow pace heightens the risk of heavy rainfall, and according to the National Weather Service office in Charleston, some areas could see a surge of up to 7 feet.
“If you haven’t yet made plans for every contingency, this afternoon is the time to do so,” Gov. Henry McMaster said on Thursday, declaring a state of emergency while omitting evacuation orders and letting individual districts decide whether to close schools.
“We think that the analysis that we’ve made with the National Weather Service and also watching what’s happening in Florida indicates that this is not a situation where we need to have evacuations.”
The state’s coast was bumped from “hurricane watch” to hurricane “warning” on Thursday afternoon.
“While we will not see the full force of Hurricane Ian the way Florida did, we could see high winds, rain, flash flooding and even tornadoes,” warned South Carolina Emergency Management Director Kim Stenson.
(5PM EDT 9/29) #Ian becomes a hurricane again. Currently, it has maximum sustained winds at 75mph and a minimum pressure of 986mb.
The Carolinas & Georgia are threatened with life-threatening flooding, storm surge, and strong winds. pic.twitter.com/omb9M4qJTN
— RadarOmega (@RadarOmega) September 29, 2022
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp followed suit, declaring a state of emergency that went into effect at 7 a.m. on Thursday, freeing up resources for local governments within the storm’s impact area, which is expected to see upwards of 6 inches of rain.
Staying ahead of the beat, the governors of North Carolina and Virginia have also declared states of emergency.