Hurricane Ian, one of the most violent storms to hit the U.S. mainland, left tens of billions of dollars in damage and an unknown death toll in its aftermath on Saturday in Florida, North and South Carolina.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian, now a post-tropical storm, was weakening but still expected to deliver dangerous conditions to sections of the Carolinas, Virginia, and West Virginia through Saturday morning.
“The destructive storm surge, flash flooding, and strong wind threat remains,” the statement warned.
The storm blasted Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, turning beach towns into disaster zones, before exceeding 85 mph (140 kph) winds as it pummelled coastal Georgetown, north of Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday.
Roads were inundated and trees blocked them, and several piers were damaged.
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The number of casualties and repair expenses are still unknown, but as Florida entered its third day after Ian struck, the scale of the damage became clear.
At least 21 deaths have been reported, according to Kevin Guthrie, head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management, during a morning briefing on Friday, though some of those remain unconfirmed.
He estimated that 10,000 individuals were missing, although many of them were likely in shelters or without power.
“Those older homes that aren’t as well built got washed into the sea,” Governor Ron DeSantis remarked.
“If you’re hunkering down in there, I believe it’d be very tough to survive.”
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Meanwhile, insurers are braced for a $28 billion to $47 billion impact from what might be the most expensive Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to property data and analytics firm CoreLogic.
US President Joe Biden has already signed a disaster declaration, making government assistance accessible to storm-affected areas.
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“We’re just beginning to see the scale of that destruction. It’s likely to rank among the worst … in the nation’s history,” he said.
Fort Myers, a city near where the storm’s eye initially hit land, took a significant hit, with countless residences damaged.
Sanibel Island, a popular vacation and retirement resort, was cut off offshore when a causeway became impassable.
Hundreds of desperate Fort Myers residents waited in line on Friday at a Home Depot on the city’s east side, seeking to buy gas cans, generators, bottled water, and other supplies. The line was the length of a football field.
Rita Chambers, a 70-year-old retiree from Jamaica who has lived in Fort Myers since 1998, described Ian as, unlike any hurricane, she has ever seen.
“And I’ve lived through storms since I was a youngster!” exclaimed Chambers, who relocated to New York as a teenager.
Trailers had been driven together by the wind and waves at a mobile home park on San Carlos Island in Fort Myers Beach. The “Dreamin,” a yacht, was lying on its side at a nearby port, where another boat had come to rest in a tree.
Deborah Grool, 70, was displaced by the storm and lost her home and vehicles.
“This is tragic since it’s not just homes, but businesses,” said Grool, a 45-year resident of the island.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles north in Georgetown, residents were likewise attempting to rebuild their lives.
With a population of around 10,000 people, the town is a popular tourist attraction known for its oak-lined streets and more than 50 National Register of Historic Places listings. Hurricane Hugo wreaked havoc on it in 1989.
A report commissioned by the city and released in November 2020 discovered that around 90% of all residential properties were vulnerable to storm surge flooding.
Len Cape, 68, a retired property manager who came to Charleston two years ago, said Ian was his first major hurricane.
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“It’s the wind, it shakes you,” Cape explained. “The wind is howling.”
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