(Update 1: updates official death toll, adds details, changes head and lede)
Washington, Sep 30 (EFE).- The authorities of Florida state in southeastern United States confirmed Friday that at least 23 people died due to Hurricane Ian, a figure that could still rise considerably.
The official death toll of 23 was released by the state’s Medical Examiners Commission, which also reported that the victims were between 22 and 92 years old and that most showed signs of drowning.
The bodies were found floating in flooded streets and on the beach, as well as inside vehicles in some cases.
The hurricane quickly downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Friday shortly after making landfall in South Carolina state.
However, Ian continues to cause “heavy rain, flash flooding and gusty winds” as it moves over South Caroline, North Carolina and Virginia, according to the latest advisory by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
“Just ‘cause the storm has passed, don’t think there aren’t hazards there,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Friday evening in St. Augustine city, referring to the dangers posed by downed power lines, generators in people’s homes, among others.
The priority now in Florida is to get to all the people who remain isolated or trapped in flooded zones, with an additional focus placed on determining how many people have died due to the hurricane, which made landfall in the peninsula as a category 4 storm.
The conditions in Florida are still very complicated in many areas, with 1.6 million customers without electricity, according to figures provided by PowerOutage, a Web site specializing in charting power blackouts.
Drones are being used to evaluate the damage and to determine the locations of people who need to be rescued and some 7,000 National Guard soldiers from Florida and other states are on hand to extract residents trapped by floodwaters or by debris. Helicopters are also being used in rescue operations on a number of islands along the western coastline that remain cut off from the mainland.
Thousands of people remain trapped by flooding in their homes or because roadways are inundated and impassable, especially on the west coast, where people are expecting federal help to be sent via the National Guard units now working in about 20 of the state’s 67 counties.
Ian, after crossing Florida from west to east, moved back out over the Atlantic Ocean, gathering strength and on Friday afternoon was moving ashore in South Carolina, bringing high winds, heavy rain and storm surge to the coastline there.
“The danger is real,” warned South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster before the storm made landfall in his state, where already more than 214,000 customers were without electrical service.
In Florida, the full scope of the situation in the affected zones is as yet unknown, but television images show survivors with their few salvaged belongings wading through floodwaters, picking through the ruins of their homes, and negotiating downed trees, powerlines and boats washed up into formerly dry – but now ruined – neighborhoods.
The US Coast Guard is focusing its rescue efforts along the western coast of Florida, and vessels have been dispatched to the state from other areas to help in any way possible.
Lee County, on the west coast, was one of the most heavily affected areas when Ian made landfall on Wednesday very close to the town of Cayo Costa.
There, winds of some 150 mph destroyed prefabricated homes throughout the city of Ft. Myers, and 15 local shelters were opened prior to the storm’s arrival for people wanting to evacuate or left without shelter.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden said on Friday that reconstruction of the area could take “years.”
Biden issued a disaster declaration for nine Florida counties affected by Ian, a move that will free up and increase federal funding to help alleviate the hardship and repair the damage.
Fitch Ratings issued a preliminary calculation of insured homes showing that Ian’s damage in Florida could range from $25 billion to $40 billion.