Fort MYERS, Fla. (AP) Rescuers evacuated stunned survivors of an island that was cut off by hurricane Ian and the death toll in Florida increased dramatically, while hundreds of thousands were left without electricity for days following the massive storm that took over the state's southwestern coast into the Carolinas.
Florida has over four dozen people reported dead, being hardest hit by the Category 4 hurricane that was one of the largest that made its landfall within the United States. Bridges were washed out and roads were flooded. The barrier islands left a lot of individuals stranded with no cell services and the absence of basic services like water, electricity, and the internet.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that multimillionaire businessman Elon Musk provided 120 Starlink satellites to “help bridge some of the communication issues.” Starlink is a satellite-based Internet system designed by Musk's SpaceX and is expected to provide high-speed internet connectivity.
Florida utilities are trying to restore electricity. On Sunday, more than 850,000 houses and businesses were still without electricity, which is down from a high number of 2.67 million.
At the very least, 54 people have been declared dead: 47 deaths in Florida, four within North Carolina, and three in Cuba. The storm, which was weaker, moved towards the north on Sunday and was predicted to bring rain to parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, according to the National Hurricane Center, which has warned of the possibility of flash flooding.
Over 1,000 were saved from the flooded areas of the southwestern coast of Florida in a single day, Daniel Hokanson, a general with four stars and the head of the National Guard, told The Associated Press when he flew to Florida.
In Washington, The White House announced that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden would travel to Florida on Wednesday. However, a short statement didn't provide any details of the trip.
Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stated that the federal government is focusing on providing assistance to victims of the disaster in Florida.
She explained on “Fox News Sunday” that the federal government had begun to prepare for the “largest amount of search and rescue assets that I think we've ever put in place before” -” FEMA Search and Rescue, Coast Guard, personnel from the departments of Interior and Defense — to complement the resources of the state of Florida.
The bridge leading to Pine Island, the largest barrier island in Florida's Gulf Coast, was destroyed by the hurricane, making it only accessible via plane or by boat. The group of volunteer Medic Corps, which responds to natural disasters across the globe using paramedics, pilots, and medical professionals, went door-to-door asking residents to evacuate.
Some were evacuated by helicopters, and others expressed the horror of being stuck in their homes as the water rose.
“The water just kept pounding the house and we watched, boats, houses — we watched everything just go flying by,” Joe Conforti said while struggling to contain his tears. He added that if it weren't his wife who advised them to sit on a table in order to stay clear of getting soaked, they might not have been able to get there: “I started to lose sensibility, because when the water's at your door and it's splashing on the door and you're seeing how fast it's moving, there's no way you're going to survive that.”
Flooding in the river poses a huge obstacle at times for the efforts to rescue and deliver supplies. There was a major challenge when the Myakka River washed over a section along Interstate 75, forcing a road closure that caused traffic congestion for a time until officials announced later on Saturday that the highway could be opened again.
As swollen rivers reach their highest levels or are on the verge of getting to their crest, they're not likely to fall dramatically for the next several days, National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming said.
In South Carolina, Pawleys Island, a beach community that is about 75 miles (115 kilometers) across the ocean from Charleston was also hit. Power was knocked out for approximately half the island on Saturday.
Eddie Wilder, who has been visiting Pawleys Island for over six decades told the Observer the experience was “insane” to see waves that were as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) destroy a landmark, the pier that is close to his home.
“We watched it hit the pier and saw the pier disappear,” he added. “We watched it crumble and watched it float by with an American flag.”
Wilder's house, situated at a height of 30ft (9 meters) higher than the coastline, was dry inside.
in North Carolina, the storm destroyed power lines and trees. Four of the deaths reported in the state were due to car crashes caused by storms while the others included one man who drowned after his truck sank in a pond, and another person was killed due to carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from an engine in the garage.
In Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, Florida, the storm surge was able to push several docks and boats onto the shore. Captain of the charter Ryan Kane said his vessel was so damaged that it was no longer able to make use of it to individuals in need. Now it will take an extended time before he's able to take his clients fishing once more.
“There's a gap within the boat's hull. It took water from the motors. It was a water-based system in every aspect,” he said, saying: “You know, boats are supposed to be in water and not in parking spaces.”
Lee County officials required residents to leave on Tuesday morning, which was a day later than others in the region did.
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson on Sunday defended Lee County officials from accusations that they were slow in directing evacuations ahead of the hurricane.
“Warnings for hurricane season begin in June. There's also a certain amount of personal responsibility. I think that the county did its job correctly. However, a small percentage of people won't follow the advice,” Anderson said on the CBS show “Face the Nation.”
In addition, DeSantis stated that several forecasts had placed Ian's landfall in the north in Lee County and said officials were in the right place once models started to focus on Lee County.