Florida fears high death toll after Hurricane Ian
Devastated cities, millions of people without electricity, but above all a human toll that could be “considerable”: Florida only began on Thursday to measure the considerable damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history,” US President Joe Biden said during a visit to the offices of the Federal Agency for Natural Disaster Management, FEMA.
“The numbers (…) are not yet clear, but we are receiving initial reports of potentially significant human casualties,” he added, assuring that he wanted to go as soon as possible to the southern island of Puerto Rico, which was recently hit by Hurricane Fiona was damaged.
As images multiply of streets turning into canals of murky water, of boats thrown to the ground like simple toys, of smashed houses, the latest tally in Florida reports at least eight dead.
An official in western Charlotte County confirmed the deaths of six people to CNN without giving further details.
A spokesman for Volusia County on the east coast announced that it had “reported the first fatality related to Hurricane Ian,” a 72-year-old man “waiting to empty his swimming pool during the storm.”
An official in east-central Osceola County told CNN the death of a resident of a retirement home.
At the same time, a search found twenty passengers on a migrant boat that capsized near the Keys archipelago on Wednesday.
– Sunken Boat –
“We’ve never seen flooding like this,” Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
“Some of those areas, Cape Coral, the city of Fort Myers, were really flooded and really devastated by this storm,” he continued, calling the damage “historic.”
Ian, downgraded to a tropical storm, made landfall as a Category 4 (on a scale of 5) hurricane in southwest Florida on Wednesday afternoon before continuing its passage across the state, bringing with it strong winds and torrential rain.
In the port of Fort Myers, some boats were partially sunk, another had run aground on the shore.
More than 2.6 million homes or businesses were left without power as of Thursday morning, out of a total of 11 million, according to specialist website PowerOutage.
– “Incessant” –
Punta Gorda, a small coastal town in the wake of the hurricane, woke up without power. As firefighters and police patrolled the streets to assess the damage, a bulldozer cleared fallen palm branches.
Ian uprooted some trees and knocked down power poles and street signs. Its downpours inundated the streets of the marina, where water was still reaching the calves Thursday morning.
Townsman Joe Ketcham chose to stay home despite evacuation orders on Wednesday.
“Right now I’m relieved but yesterday I was concerned,” said the 70-year-old.
“It was non-stop, constantly blowing over our heads. We could hear the metal banging against the building. It was dark. We didn’t know what was going on outside,” he said.
Lisamarie Pierro, who also lives in the city, said she was relieved to see her house “still standing” without flooding.
– reinforcement –
In view of the extent of the damage, US President Joe Biden declared the state of a major natural disaster on Thursday morning and decided to release additional federal funds for the affected regions.
Though weakened, Storm Ian continued its destructive course toward South Carolina on Thursday.
It is expected to strengthen and regain hurricane strength when it makes landfall in South Carolina on Friday before quickly weakening.
As the sea surface warms, the frequency of the strongest hurricanes with stronger winds and greater precipitation increases, but not the total number of hurricanes.
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