At least 85 people have been killed in Hurricane Ian, and authorities are continuing to take stock of the full death toll and damage after Florida’s west coast was battered by high winds and inundated with a devastating storm surge.
Some parts of North Carolina, Florida, and Puerto Rico are without power, with nearly 600,000 people in Florida alone as of Monday afternoon. Clean drinking water is scarce for many residents in Florida, and several counties are under boil-water advisories.
As of Monday, the state had recorded 58 storm-related deaths, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. An additional 23 people in Charlotte County died “directly or indirectly” from the hurricane, the county commissioner said in a press conference Sunday.
More than half of the deaths in Florida were in Lee County, where 42 people have died, according to state officials. With search and rescue teams still active, that number may increase; on Thursday, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno had painted a grave picture on Good Morning America, saying, "While I don't have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds. There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued.”
Four people were also killed in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday. On Monday, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety told BuzzFeed News no additional deaths had been recorded in the state.
Eight Florida counties, mostly along the southwest part of the state, have recorded storm-related deaths, with victims’ ages ranging from 22 to 94. Many of the deaths were drownings, but they also include a 62-year-old woman who died after a tree fell on a mobile home, a 22-year-old woman who was ejected from an ATV rollover on a washed-out road in Manatee County, and a 71-year-old man who fell off a roof while putting up rain shutters, the Department of Law Enforcement said. Three people died due to their oxygen machines failing during power outages, the Miami Herald reported.
The hurricane, now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it moves over Virginia and North Carolina, is expected to be among the costliest in US history. President Joe Biden tweeted Saturday that it’s “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history.”
Ian initially made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Entire neighborhoods were leveled. The storm also inundated Florida’s southwestern regions with catastrophic flooding; some parts of North Port are still under 7 to 8 feet of water, according to the local fire chief.
Video on social media showed the nearby Myakka River overflowing into the streets, forcing the closure of a miles-long section of Interstate 75 Friday night. The highway was clogged with evacuee traffic, which was at a standstill for hours.
Ian made landfall again in South Carolina on Friday morning as a post-tropical cyclone, but the NHC still warned of the life-threatening storm surge and winds.
In Florida’s Lee County, among the state’s hardest-hit regions, the storm obliterated homes in Fort Myers Beach.
Kaitlin Knapp, a reporter for Fox 4 in Fort Myers, uploaded a video showing the damage in her flooded home, where the flood line reached about 3 feet.
“I just wanted to show this to you guys. I’m not looking for pity. I’m not looking for ‘I’m sorry.’ I want to show you guys this is what Hurricane Ian did to this community,” she says in the video. “We’re going to get through this and we’re going to rebuild one way or another. The light at the end of the tunnel will be there. Doesn’t seem like it now, but it will be.”
Part of the Sanibel Causeway bridge, which connects the mainland with the Sanibel and Captiva barrier islands, collapsed. “That area is going to be out of commission for some time,” US Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral McPherson said during a press conference Saturday, estimating that FEMA has done around 400 rescues from the barrier islands. “It was hit very hard. It does not have water, it doesn’t have the basic infrastructure.”
At least 2.5 million Floridians were under an evacuation order ahead of the hurricane making landfall. Earlier models had shown Ian heading north, but its trajectory veered directly eastward into the state. That left thousands of people in the state’s southwest counties with less than 24 hours to get out, the Tampa Bay Times noted.
Officials in Lee County were hours later in their announcement than other coastal counties, leading some to question the lack of urgency despite the forthcoming devastation being apparent days earlier.
Kevin Ruane, a Lee County commissioner, said it appeared that the worst would be farther north, so an extensive evacuation order was put off.
“I think we responded as quickly as we humanly could have,” he said.
“I’ve been in the business of local government and county management for many, many years,” Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said in a press conference. “I don’t remember the last time we had to manage a hurricane that was as difficult as this one.”