Hurricane Ian’s death toll rises in Florida; storm to hit the Carolinas

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Hurricane Ian left Florida on Thursday night, upgrading from a downgraded tropical storm to a hurricane en route to the Carolinas. Across Florida, the monster storm caused catastrophic devastation, flooding and at least 11 deaths, with many more expected.

President Joe Biden said Ian “may be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history”, responsible for “substantial loss of life”.

Preliminary reports of lives lost include six in Charlotte County; two in Lee County: two in Sarasota County and one in Volusia County.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declined to speculate on the death toll at several press conferences. DeSantis surveyed the damage in Fort Myers Beach on Thursday, saying some of it was “indescribable.”

“There were cars floating in the middle of the water,” DeSantis said. “Some of the houses were total losses.”

At 11:15 p.m., Ian was 185 miles south of Charleston, SC, with peak winds of 85 mph, down from its peak of 155 mph on Wednesday. It was tracking north-northeast at 10 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 45 miles from the center. Tropical storm-force winds extend 145 miles from the center.

Ian left Florida’s east coast and is expected to turn north early Friday, according to the center’s latest advisory. Ian will approach the South Carolina coast on Friday, with the center of the storm moving further inland across the Carolinas Friday night and Saturday.

It is expected to weaken rapidly over the southeastern United States late Friday through Saturday.

The entire South Carolina coast and the North Carolina coast from Little River Inlet to Cape Fear are now subject to hurricane warnings. A storm surge warning was also issued for several parts of the two Carolinas, with “rapid weakening” expected after landfall.

Meanwhile, rescue work for those trapped in flooded neighborhoods in Southwest Florida began Wednesday and continued Thursday as the sun rose, winds died down and the extent of the Ian’s destruction was beginning to reveal itself.

Hundreds of people called for help in Lee County, DeSantis said.

During the Thursday afternoon briefing, the governor encouraged people to send financial aid, not supplies. So far, he said, the Florida Disaster Fund has raised $10 million in 24 hours.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Army Reserve conducted rescue missions in the area, while on-site engineers began inspecting bridges. Some bridges, like the Pine Island Bridge, are no longer passable, DeSantis said. The storm tore up an entire section of Sanibel Causeway.

“Sanibel is destruction,” DeSantis said. “He was hit by a truly biblical storm surge.”

Lee and Charlotte counties were virtually “off the grid” Thursday morning, DeSantis said, with 2.5 million power outages reported so far statewide, including 1.5 million in southwest Florida, according to the governor’s office. Returning to the grid may not happen overnight.

“Reconnections are going to have to be a rebuilding of that infrastructure,” DeSantis said. “It will be more than just connecting a power line to a pole.”

Ian had made landfall in mainland Florida at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, just south of Punta Gorda, landing with winds of 145 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm had already made landfall on the island of Cayo Costa off Fort Myers.

A wind tower near Punta Gorda recorded sustained winds of 55 mph with a gust of 78 mph, the hurricane center said in a 9 p.m. update, while a Punta Gorda airport station measured a gust of 109 mph shortly before 8 p.m.

“This is going to be a storm we’ve been talking about for years to come,” Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Despite the attention paid to high winds, the biggest killer in hurricanes tends to be water. After submerging much of southwest Florida on Wednesday, Ian moved through central Florida overnight and Thursday, bringing heavy rains and flooding to the area. The rivers overflowed on the main streets. Some bodies of water, like Shingle Creek near Kissimmee, have broken records, reaching the highest levels ever reported.

DeSantis called the storm a “500-year flood.”

Forecasters had predicted that central and northeast Florida could see between 12 and 18 inches of rain, with a maximum of 24 inches in some areas, while northeast Florida would get between 6 and 10 inches. with up to 1 foot in some areas.

As of Thursday night, parts of the Orlando metro area received more than 14 inches, city officials told the Orlando Sentinel.

Total precipitation over the past 24 hours across Florida as of 11 a.m. Thursday.  (Southeast River Forecast Center)

In the cities of Kissimmee and New Smyrna Beach, residents and local media shared videos of main streets flooded with water.

Meanwhile, areas of South Florida received nearly 10 inches of rain in the last 3 days from Hurricane Ian, according to the National Weather Service. The western fringes of Broward were the hardest hit.

In South Florida, much of the destruction occurred Tuesday night, when Ian spawned at least two tornadoes in Broward County and one in Palm Beach County, the National Weather Service said. A tornado near Kings Point near Delray Beach knocked down trees, destroyed cars, damaged apartments and displaced 35 people.

Satellite images of Hurricane Ian as it heads into the Carolinas

Florida Power and Light reported restoring power to 750,000 customers before the storm left Florida, while 1.2 million remained without power as of 4 p.m. Thursday.

“We haven’t lost a single transmission tower,” FPL chairman Eric Silagy said at the press conference on Thursday afternoon. ” It’s essential. The backbone is in place.

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The new tropical depression that formed Wednesday morning dissipated Thursday evening, the hurricane center said.

Another tropical wave off the coast of Africa has a 40% chance of developing within the next five days, the hurricane center said.

The next named storm to form would be Julia.

Hurricane season ends on November 30.

Contributing editors Ron Hurtibise, David Lyons, Rafael Olmeda, Lois Solomon and Scott Travis contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was also used.

A tropical wave off the coast of Africa has a medium chance of developing over the next five days, the National Hurricane Center said.

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