“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history”

The deadliest hurricane in Florida history was Hurricane Okeechobee in 1928, which killed more than 2,500 people in the state.

The storm, which at one time was a Category 4 hurricane, unleashed winds of 150 mph when it made landfall on Wednesday, causing what DeSantis described as a “500-year flood.” At least 15,000 people are currently housed there. Before the storm made landfall, more than 2.5 million people were under evacuation orders. More than 2.6 million people remain without electricity.

Flood waters in some of the hardest hit areas exceeded 6 feet; videos on social media showed water bursting through doors and swelling up to the second floors of homes. Pieces of bridges collapsed into the water, massive trees fell in the wake of climate carnage, contributing to power outages across the state. The storm is one of the worst to ever affect the state.

“Lee and Charlotte [counties] are essentially off the grid at this point,” DeSantis said Thursday. The storm made landfall near Fort Myers, Florida in Lee County.

DeSantis said the state has launched efforts to eventually save thousands of people stranded in their homes by historic flooding triggered by the storm. Biden also declared a major disaster in Florida, which comes with federal assistance to supplement state, local and tribal recovery efforts in storm-affected areas.

“You’re looking at a storm that changed the character of a significant part of our state,” DeSantis said. “And it’s going to take not only an emergency response now in the days or weeks to come – it’s going to take years of effort to be able to rebuild and come back.”

DeSantis remained optimistic that rescue efforts could reach those stranded by floodwaters.

“We obviously hope they can be rescued at this point, and I know the people there, those are the areas they want to take action on,” DeSantis said.

Some 28 Chinook helicopters carry out rescue missions in the hardest hit areas. The state also deployed 100 engineers to assess damage to bridges, including the Sanibel Causeway and the Pine Island Bascule Bridge, which are currently not passable, DeSantis said.

In the case of a badly affected Lee County hospital system, Ian cut off the public water supply and caused widespread power outages. Florida Hospital Association CEO Mary Mayhew said Lee Health, which includes Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, had to evacuate 1,000 patients as of dawn Thursday. The statewide medical community descended on the area as rescuers moved patients to facilities outside the area that were willing to help.

The governor and Biden spoke Thursday morning about the storm after Biden declared Ian a major disaster, opening up more state aid and individual assistance to residents of nine counties. Biden also spoke with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass.

Biden will send FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to Florida on Friday to “verify” the response and assess where Florida needs more support. “The president and the governor are committed to continuing close coordination,” White House officials said during a reading of the appeal.

Thursday morning, Ian was moving across Florida’s east coast at around 8mph, with maximum sustained winds lowered to 65mph – down from Wednesday’s 150mph winds. Tropical storm-force winds are expected to spread across northeast Florida toward the Georgia, North and South Carolina coasts through Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center. A hurricane watch is still in effect for these areas. The storm is expected to leave Florida as early as Thursday. It caused catastrophic flooding across the state as well as powerful winds that battered homes and businesses.

Federal aid released by the president could include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other disaster recovery assistance programs.

Criswell said Thursday that “we have reports of deaths” in Lee County, including from the local sheriff, and that “they expect the number to increase.” Criswell added that she hadn’t heard of many deaths in other parts of Florida overnight, “but I think as soon as day breaks and first responders keep moving, we will continue to get more information.”

“What I know right now is that Lee County was basically ground zero for impacts from Hurricane Ian,” Criswell said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And we know we’re going to have catastrophic impacts in that region.”

The FEMA administrator said officials will gather post-storm imagery as soon as it is safe to fly to further assess the largest impact areas and “put boots on the ground in areas that have impact.” most need”. Search and rescue teams worked through the night as individuals called 911 to report they were trapped by the storm and needed rescue, and those teams will continue to deploy on Thursday as officials prepare for the toll from the storm on Florida’s east coast, Criswell said.

The White House said in its disaster statement that damage assessments are continuing in other areas of the state, “and additional areas may be designated for assistance once assessments are complete.”

Biden’s endorsement comes a day after DeSantis formally requested the declaration of a statewide disaster. The entire Florida congressional delegation also wrote to Biden in support of DeSantis’ request.

“This historic hurricane will continue to impact the state for some time to come, and the full extent of the damage will not be known for days. However, approval of this statement request will allow Floridians to be better prepared for the recovery phase,” lawmakers said in a letter, led by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R).

The state has activated 5,000 National Guard troops to help with recovery efforts. At least 40,000 workers are on standby to help restore power.

There are some 3,000 rescue efforts underway in Lee County, Sen said. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). In Naples, Scott said, “the whole city” is inundated, with water “from the bay to the gulf,” and local first responders have already lost two brand-new fire trucks in the flooding.

“So the process right now – unfortunately I’ve done it enough times that I can tell you the process – the first thing you have to keep everyone safe, you have to save everyone” , Scott said.

Karen Baughman, 81, of Fort Myers, Fla., was unable to evacuate her home before the hurricane hit and was hunkered down in her home on Wednesday. She said she felt safe and there was no flooding in her neighborhood.

“I’ve been through three hurricanes here and only once have I had to go to a shelter,” she said in an interview. “My house felt safe. It always looked worse – the predictions – than it was. And I didn’t really know where I was going.

Zack Colman, Arek Sarkissian, Tanya Snyder and Bruce Ritchie contributed to this report.

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