National Guard troops are being positioned in South Carolina to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state, a needed step to speed federal assistance for recovery once Ian passes. Biden approved a declaration for Florida on Thursday.
Rescue crews in Florida continue to pilot boats through flooded streets to save thousands of Floridians trapped amid flooded homes and buildings shattered by 150 mph winds and historic storm surge.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least 700 rescues, mostly by air, were conducted on Thursday involving the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard, and urban search-and-rescue teams.
Ian had come ashore as a 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 road access to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.6 million Florida homes and businesses—nearly a quarter of utility customers. Some 2.1 million of those customers remained in the dark days afterward.
At least six people were confirmed dead in Florida, including two who died Thursday afternoon when their car hydroplaned and overturned in a water-filled ditch in north Florida’s Putnam County, while three other people were reported killed in Cuba after the hurricane struck there on Tuesday.
In the Fort Myers metro, the hurricane ripped homes from their slabs and deposited them among shredded wreckage. Businesses, churches, homes and government offices near the beach disappeared, leaving twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats. Fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.
“I don’t know how anyone could have survived in there,” William Goodison said amid the wreckage of a mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach where he’d lived for 11 years. Goodison said he was alive only because he rode out the storm at his son’s house inland.
The hurricane tore through the park of about 60 homes, leaving many destroyed or mangled beyond repair, including Goodison’s single-wide home. 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 road, having stalled when the storm surge flooded their engines.
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.
Emergency crews sawed through toppled trees to reach stranded people. Many in the hardest-hit areas were unable to call for help because of electrical and cellular outages.
A chunk of the Sanibel Causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live.
Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center now says it will hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane around Noon.
By The Associated Press with Meg Kinnard and Adriana Gomez Licon