Hurricane Ian heads for South Carolina as flooding traps many in Florida;  death toll rises |  DIRECT

Hurricane Ian heads for South Carolina as flooding traps many in Florida; death toll rises | DIRECT

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Rescue teams piloted boats and waded through flooded streets on Thursday to rescue thousands of trapped Floridians after Hurricane Ian destroyed homes and businesses and left millions in the dark.

Click here for live radar and the latest forecast on Ian’s path.

Hours after weakening into a tropical depression as it crossed the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday night after emerging over the Atlantic Ocean. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would make landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Friday.

The devastation inflicted on Florida began to be felt a day after Ian was one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. The storm inundated homes on both coasts of the state, severed the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront. pier and knocked out power to 2.67 million homes and businesses in Florida, nearly a quarter of utility customers.

WATCH: Joe Torres reports on Hurricane Ian’s destruction path

At least nine deaths have been confirmed in Florida, while two more people are believed to have been killed in Cuba after the hurricane hit the island on Tuesday.

Aerial photos of the Fort Myers area, a few miles west of where Ian struck land, showed homes torn from their flagstones and laid among jagged wreckage. Businesses near the beach were completely razed, leaving only twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles next to damaged boats and fires smoldered over land where homes once stood.

“We have never seen a storm surge of this magnitude,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference. “The amount of water that has increased, and will likely continue to increase today even as the storm passes, is essentially a 500-year flood.”

PHOTOS: Haunting aerial footage shows the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Sanibel Island

Damaged homes and debris are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

After leaving Florida as a tropical storm on Thursday and entering the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Canaveral, Ian again strengthened into a hurricane with winds of 75 mph (120 km/h). The hurricane center predicted it would continue to strengthen before hitting South Carolina on Friday, but would still remain a Category 1 storm.

A hurricane warning was issued for the South Carolina coast and extended to Cape Fear on the southeast coast of North Carolina. With tropical storm-force winds reaching 415 miles (667 kilometers) from its center, Ian was expected to bring a 5-foot (1.5-meter) storm surge to coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas. Rainfall of up to 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) threatened flooding from South Carolina to Virginia.

Southwest Florida sheriffs said 911 centers were inundated with thousands of blocked callers, some with life-threatening emergencies. The U.S. Coast Guard began rescue efforts hours before daybreak on barrier islands near where Ian struck, DeSantis said. More than 800 members of federal urban search and rescue teams were also in the area.

In the Orlando area, Orange County firefighters used boats to reach residents of a flooded neighborhood. A photo posted by the department on Twitter showed a firefighter carrying someone in his arms in knee-deep water. At a local nursing home, patients were carried on stretchers through floodwaters to a waiting bus.

Among those rescued was Joseph Agboona. “We were happy to get out,” he said after grabbing two bags of belongings when water rose to the windows of his Orlando home. “It was very, very bad.”

In Fort Myers, Valerie Bartley’s family spent desperate hours holding a dining room table against their patio door, fearing the raging storm outside “would tear our house apart”.

“I was terrified,” Bartley said. “What we heard was shingles and debris from the whole neighborhood hitting our house.”

MORE: Rescuers scour flooded Florida disaster area amid massive power outages

The storm ripped patio screens and snapped a palm tree in the yard, Bartley said, but left the roof intact and his family unharmed.

In Fort Myers, some people left the shelters to return home Thursday afternoon. Long lines formed at gas stations and a Home Depot opened, letting in a few customers at a time.

Frank Pino was near the back of the line, with about 100 people ahead of him.

“I hope they leave something,” Pino said, “because I need almost everything.”

Authorities have confirmed at least nine deaths in Florida. One of the victims was a 72-year-old Deltona man who fell into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the pouring rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.

Two other deaths caused by the storm have been reported in Cuba.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said his office was struggling to respond to thousands of 911 calls in the Fort Myers area, but many roads and bridges were impassable.

“We still can’t access a lot of people in need,” Marceno told ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​show.

Emergency crews sawed down fallen trees to reach stranded people. Many in the hardest hit areas were unable to call for help due to power and cellphone outages.

Christine Bomlitz could not reach her mother by phone after the storm made landfall south of Englewood, where the 84-year-old lives in a retirement community. Bomlitz said her mother was supposed to evacuate but was not picked up, so the anxious Las Vegas girl posted a plea for help on social media.

Some good Samaritans came to his aid on Thursday, with one wading through chest-deep floodwaters to perform a wellness check. Relieved that her mother had weathered the storm, Bomlitz worked to organize a boat rescue.

“I’m grateful for this stranger, a complete stranger,” Bomlitz said.

A piece of the Sanibel causeway fell into the sea, cutting off access to the barrier island where 6,300 people live. It’s unclear how many heeded evacuation orders, but Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller expressed cautious optimism.

MORE: Piece of Sanibel Causeway falls into sea during Ian, cutting off Florida island where 6.3K live

A damaged causeway to Sanibel Island is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, near Sanibel Island, Florida.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

No deaths or injuries have been confirmed in the county, and flyovers of the barrier islands show “home integrity is much better than expected,” Fuller said.

South of Sanibel Island, Naples’ historic waterfront pier was destroyed, even the pilings underneath were ripped out. “At this time, there is no pier,” said Penny Taylor, commissioner for Collier County.

In Port Charlotte, a hospital emergency room was flooded and high winds ripped off part of the roof, sending water gushing into the intensive care unit. The sickest patients — some on ventilators — were crowded into the middle two floors as staff prepared for the arrival of storm victims, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital.

Ian hit Florida like a monstrous Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 mph (241 km/h) linking it to the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the United States.

While scientists generally avoid blaming climate change for specific storms without detailed analysis, Ian’s watery destruction matches what scientists predicted for a warmer world: stronger and wetter hurricanes, but not necessarily more numerous.

“This case of very, very heavy rain is something we expected to see because of climate change,” said MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel. “We will see more storms like Ian.”


Associated Press contributors include Terry Spencer and Tim Reynolds in Fort Myers; Cody Jackson in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Bobby Caina Calvan in New York.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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