ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, cutting off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroying a historic waterfront pier and knocking out power to 2.5 million people as it dumped rain over a huge area on Thursday.
Catastrophic flooding was threatened around the state as one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States crossed the peninsula. Ian’s tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 415 miles, drenching much of Florida and the southeastern Atlantic coast.
“It crushed us,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said roads and bridges remained impassable, stranding thousands in the county where Ian made landfall just north of Fort Myers. “We still cannot access many of the people that are in need.”
Marceno also said his agency was just beginning to assess potential casualties. The report of hundreds of deaths in Lee County has not been confirmed and was likely an estimate based on 911 calls, the governor said.
Authorities confirmed at least one storm death in Florida — a 72-year-old man in Deltona who fell into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. Another person died in Cuba after Ian struck there.
Gov. DeSantis speaks with President Biden
President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke by telephone Thursday morning to discuss next steps in the federal response to Hurricane Ian.
Biden formally issued a disaster declaration Thursday morning and told DeSantis that he was dispatching Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell to Florida on Friday to check in on response efforts and to gauge where additional support will be needed.
Coast Guard makes rescues
The U.S. Coast Guard began performing hurricane rescue missions on barrier islands off southwest Florida early Thursday, as soon as the winds died down, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.
“The Coast Guard had people who were in their attics and got saved off their rooftops,” DeSantis said. The most vulnerable areas were along the barrier islands of Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties, along with inlets and inland areas along rivers.
More than 2.5 million Florida homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.us site. Most of the homes and businesses in 12 counties were without power.
Sheriff Bull Prummell of Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, announced a curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. “for life-saving purposes,” saying violators may face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
“I am enacting this curfew as a means of protecting the people and property of Charlotte County,” Prummell said.
Life-threatening storm surges and hurricane conditions were possible on Thursday and Friday along the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, where Ian was expected to move inland, dumping more rain well in from the coast, the hurricane center said.
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.