© Reuters. Stranded shrimp boats are seen at the pier after Hurricane Ian caused widespread damage in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, U.S., September 30, 2022.REUTERS/Marco Bello
Brad Brooks and Jonathan Drake
FORT MYERS, Fla./CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Florida and the Carolinas were hit by one of the most violent storms in U.S. history and faced a massive recovery on Saturday as the remnants of Hurricane Ian threatened along the east coast. The coast was flooded further, leaving dozens of people with billions of dollars in damage.
Ian’s confirmed death toll rose to at least 50, mostly in Lee County, Florida, which bore the brunt of the storm as it slammed into the state’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, a Category 4 hurricane, the largest Sustained winds were 150 mph (240 kph).
The death toll is expected to climb as the floodwaters recede and search teams reach more of the area initially cut off by the storm.
About 10,000 people in Florida were unaccounted for as of Friday, according to the state’s emergency management director, adding that many of them may be safe in shelters or unable to reach them due to power and phone outages.
The full extent of the damage became clearer three days after Ian made landfall in the U.S., with officials saying some of the worst damage appeared to be caused by rough wind-driven waves that swept into waterfront communities and washed away buildings.
New satellite imagery from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows beach cabins and motel complexes off the coast of Sanibel Island, Florida, destroyed by Ian’s storm surge. The images showed what appeared to be damaged roofs, although most of the houses were still standing.
After weakening to a tropical storm at the end of its journey across Florida to the Atlantic, Ian regained hurricane strength on Friday and struck coastal South Carolina, sweeping ashore near Georgetown, north of the historic port city of Charleston. , sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h).
Many roads were flooded and blocked by fallen trees, while some piers in the area were damaged.
More flood forecasts
As it churned north and inland, Ian weakened again and was downgraded to a tropical cyclone by Saturday afternoon. But the remnants of the storm are still expected to bring dangerous conditions to parts of the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Flood watches were issued for southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia on Saturday, even though “record-significant” flooding is expected to continue in central Florida. The Hurricane Center said less flooding is expected in parts of the Appalachian Mountains, the mid-Atlantic and the Carolina coast.
As of 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Saturday, about 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power in Florida, with about 300,000 additional outages spread across the Carolinas and Virginia.
Florida accounted for the vast majority of confirmed storm-related deaths, with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office tallying 35 and state officials in four neighboring counties reporting an additional 11.
Authorities in North Carolina said at least four other people were killed there.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters Saturday that there have been no storm-related deaths in his state and that most power has been restored. However, he added: “We know we have a lot of cleanup and rebuilding to do.”
Damage from high water levels from coastal storm surges and inland torrential rains is widespread.
“We’ve had more flood damage than wind damage,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday. “It’s going to require a lot of flood claims to be filed.”
Insurers are bracing for between $28 billion and $47 billion in claims in what could be Florida’s costliest storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to U.S. real estate data and analytics firm CoreLogic.
President Joe Biden has endorsed Florida’s disaster declaration, saying Ian “could rank among the worst (storms) in U.S. history.” On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency in North Carolina.
Fort Myers, Florida, near where Ian first made landfall, took a major hit, with many homes destroyed.
Offshore, Sanibel Island, a popular tourist destination, was cut off when a causeway bridge became impassable.
Ricky Anderson, 57, a cashier who moved to the island from Illinois in June, said he “lost everything in the hurricane” and was worried about his neighbors.
“Where should those who don’t have a home go?” Anderson said.
Robert Hartman, 81, who has lived in Fort Myers for 50 years, said he needed government help with future cleanup and repairs.
“We don’t have electricity, we don’t have phone service, we don’t have anything. We just want a little help to get my home back because I have nowhere to go,” he added, his voice choked.
Map – Hurricane Ian hitting the Gulf Coast
Drone video shows boats washed ashore after Hurricane Ian
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