Rescue and recovery efforts are underway in Florida after one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. decimated several towns on the state's southwest coast.
Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa, Florida, as a catastrophic Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. Those winds pushed water from the Gulf of Mexico ashore, flooding homes and washing away roads needed to access the beachfront locales.
Ian exited Florida on Thursday before making a run at the South Carolina coast, where it made landfall Friday as a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds.
At least two dozen deaths have been reported as crews make their way through homes in Ian's path that were left in shambles. On Sunday, North Carolina officials reported the first storm-related deaths in that state.
Boats are left stranded on the shore in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, on September 29, 2022. (JOSEPH AGCAOILI/AFP / Getty Images)
The Florida District of Medical Examiners, the official source for fatality information for the state, confirmed 24 storm-related deaths by Saturday afternoon. The majority of the victims were in hard-hit Lee County. Eighteen of the storm victims drowned.
Below is a list of the number of deaths being reported in each county by FDME thus far:
- Collier County: 3
- Lake County: 1
- Lee County: 12
- Manatee County: 1
- Sarasota County: 2
- Volusia County: 5
Various state and local officials have said they are also investigating several more deaths that may have been related to Ian. Those were described as "unconfirmed fatalities" by Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie on Friday.
"There's a potential for significant fatalities, but I think it's too soon to put any type of numbers on that," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told FOX News on Thursday during "America’s Newsroom."
According to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, a 72-year-old man died after going outside during Hurricane Ian to drain his pool. Deputies said his body was later pulled from a canal.
A second man in the county died when he fell as floodwaters rushed into his home and he was unable to escape, deputies said.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said there have been "about 35" confirmed deaths in the wake of now-Post-Tropical Cyclone Ian. He provided an update Saturday from outside the Emergency Operations Center.
Sanibel Island, which is part of Lee County, was hit hard by Hurricane Ian with the main road leading to the island being heavily damaged. City officials said that two people were killed on the island during the storm. Twelve others were injured. Mayor Holly Smith said that about 200 households did not evacuate, and search teams are still determining the status of people in those homes.
Officials said nearly 3,800 people sought refuge from Ian in the 15 shelters opened in the county.
Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance told FOX Weather on Thursday that there have been seven storm-related deaths in the county. FDEM has not yet confirmed storm-related deaths in Charlotte County.
Officials in North Carolina on Sunday reported four people there died as a result of Hurricane Ian.
Three fatalities were reported in Johnston County, while one fatality was reported in Martin County. Most were the result of crashes that happened during the storm.
One of the deaths in Johnston County was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of a generator, officials said.
Rescues and recovery
Thousands of first responders who arrived Thursday have been busy identifying those who need help, restoring power and re-establishing communications.
The U.S. Coast Guard has been performing rescue missions on the barrier islands since the wee hours of Thursday morning, DeSantis said. Nearly 30 large helicopters from the National Guard and Coast Guard have been performing rescue missions, he said, and more air assets were expected to arrive during the day Thursday.
"This is a monumental effort, and these next 72 hours are really about securing people's safety and stabilizing the situation," DeSantis told FOX News.
The hurricane left behind damaged power infrastructure in at least two counties, and at least two bridges were heavily damaged. Among them was the Sanibel Causeway, the main road on and off Sanibel Island.
"We know Sanibel Causeway, and we also know Pine Island Bridge – those two are not passable, and they are going to require structural rebuild," DeSantis said.
Aerial view of Sanibel Causeway (Credit: Lee County Sheriff's Office)
In Central Florida, more than 20,000 responders arrived Thursday with recovery efforts, Guthrie said. More than 300 truckloads of food and water are in the area now and most school districts will be able to reopen on Friday or Monday.
A senior living facility in Orlando was evacuated as floodwaters continued to rise after Ian dumped more than a foot of rain on the region. The FOX Forecast Center said the Orlando area experienced a 200-year flood event.
Orlando International Airport received 12.49 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, which set a new all-time 24-hour rainfall record in the city.
President Joe Biden offered his support Thursday morning to DeSantis, who received a major disaster declaration for nine counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardy, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota. Residents in those counties can begin seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to DeSantis. More counties are expected to be added to the disaster declaration in the coming days.