Ian leaves thousands trapped by floodwaters, 2.5 mn without power in Florida
Miami, Sep 29 (EFE).- Hurricane Ian left a trail of destruction in southwestern and central Florida, where more than 2.6 million people are without electricity, thousands remain trapped in their homes due to flooding and some roads are still impassible.
The number of fatalities remains unclear, but US President Joe Biden said Thursday that early reports indicate “substantial loss of life.”
“It hit us, and it crushed us,” Carmine Marceno, sheriff of southwestern Lee County, one of the hardest-hit areas, told the ABC network’s “Good Morning America” program. “We’re assessing as we speak.”
He added that deaths from Ian, which made landfall in the US at around 3.15 pm on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane, are likely in the hundreds.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, later referred to two possible fatalities.
“We don’t know that they’re linked to the storm,” he said at a press conference in Tallahassee, the state capital, though adding that they likely were.
One of those possible victims is a 72-year-old man from Deltona, a city halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach, who drowned early Thursday when he fell into a canal while draining his pool during the hurricane, officials in Volusia County said.
In Lee County, home to storm surge-hit Ft. Myers, roads and bridges remain impassable due to massive flooding, leaving thousands of people trapped in their homes.
Stranded individuals who still have a phone connection have been calling 911 (the emergency telephone number in the United States), and some of them have been rescued by helicopters.
“We still cannot access many of the people that are in need,” Marceno said.
Several sections of the causeway that links the Ft. Myers-Cape Coral area with Sanibel Island, home to more than 6,000 people, were washed away by storm surge from Hurricane Ian, which on Thursday was downgraded to a tropical storm but still remains capable of causing massive flooding both in Florida and in the nearby states of Georgia and South Carolina.
“We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” DeSantis said, adding that the amount of water afflicting coastal areas amounts to “basically a 500-year flood event” and that water levels likely will continue to rise throughout Thursday.
Among the affected infrastructure was the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which sustained roof and water damage and will be out of service until Friday or Saturday.
Biden approved a major disaster declaration for nine Florida counties battered by Ian to unlock federal recovery funds, the White House said Thursday.
Later in the day, the president said during a visit to the Washington DC headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Ian “could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history” and that he is hearing there could be substantial loss of life.
He pledged that the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of clearing debris and the search-and-rescue efforts, as well as the majority of the cost of rebuilding public schools and fire stations.
Ian, which battered western Cuba before making landfall in the US as a powerful Category 4 hurricane near Cayo Costa, a barrier island just west of Ft. Myers, had been downgraded to a tropical storm but regained hurricane status Thursday afternoon off the coast of northeastern Florida, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest bulletin.
It is packing maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour and is moving to the north-northeast at 17 km/h.
According to the NHC, the storm is still very dangerous and is taking aim at Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina with life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds.
On the forecast track, Ian will approach the coast of South Carolina on Friday, the NHC said, adding that the storm’s center will move farther island across the Carolinas on Friday night and Saturday.