Closing system

Ian’s death toll rises as massive rescue efforts continue in Florida

“We want to be transparent, but we just don’t know that number,” Guthrie said of the deaths.

Officials said there were at least 21 deaths likely caused by the hurricane, although some news reports had higher totals.

Some 1.6 million people are still without power, mostly in southwest Florida, which has been hardest hit. The number, however, has dropped significantly from the 2.5 million who had no power the day before. The storm made landfall near Fort Myers in Lee County on Wednesday, bringing catastrophic flooding and damaging winds. The storm moved east across the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday and made landfall in South Carolina above Georgetown on Friday around 2:30 p.m.

“We knew there would be flooding, but having more standing water over 200 miles away is saying something,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference on Friday. evening in St. Augustine, Florida, near Jacksonville.

As of Friday morning, there were 12 deaths in Charlotte County believed to be related to the hurricane; eight in Collier County and one in Polk County, according to state officials. Officials, however, did not speculate on the possible number of deaths in hard-hit Lee County, where reports Thursday said at least five people died there due to the storm.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno speculated on “Good Morning America” ​​early Thursday morning that deaths “are in the hundreds” in her area. Biden also said Thursday that early reports indicated there could be significant loss of life. DeSantis, however, has tried to downplay that possibility, holding out hope that search and rescue operations will find survivors.

“You kind of have a lump in your throat because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” DeSantis said of Marceno’s guess. “I think this was done out of concern for the well-being of the people of Lee County, and concern for the damage caused by this storm.”

Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, unleashed winds of 150mph when it crashed ashore on Wednesday – causing what DeSantis described as a “500 year”. At least 15,000 people sheltered in place during the storm. Before it made landfall, more than 2.5 million people were under evacuation orders.

During a Friday briefing, Biden said there were six fixed-wing aircraft, 18 rescue boats and crew, and 16 rescue helicopters working on the rescue efforts.

“We are only just beginning to see the extent of this destruction. It is likely to rank among the worst in the country’s history,” he said. “It will take months, years to rebuild.

One of the state’s top priorities starting Friday is to work with federal and local officials to fix the broken water main in Lee County, DeSantis said. Damage to the water main means no water is currently reaching the county and its more than 750,000 residents. The United States Army Corps of Engineers should play a key role in achieving this goal. To that end, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is in Florida with DeSantis to assess the damage and offer support. Biden, who spoke with DeSantis by phone on Friday, is also expected to travel to Florida soon.

Biden declared Ian a major disaster on Thursday, opening up more state aid and individual assistance to residents of several counties. Criswell said Friday that the federal government will soon add more counties to the list. “FEMA is here to support these ongoing efforts right now to continue the rescue missions that are still ongoing, but also to begin supporting the recovery mission,” Criswell said during Friday’s briefing.

Ian brought near-Category 5 winds to Florida’s southwest coast, along with devastating rains and storm surges that topped 10 feet in some areas. The storm’s wrath and massive rainfall will be felt in most corners of Florida.

Florida inspected and reopened about 800 bridges on Friday, including some in high-priority areas in the Southwest, DeSantis said. The state is working to clear roads and set up staging areas for local residents to get food and water. Fuel is delivered to the state, but electricity continues to be a problem plaguing this coast. State health care regulators also evacuated 8,489 patients from 198 health care facilities that were in the path of the Category 4 storm.

Hardee County is almost completely powerless while Charlotte and Lee counties are facing approximately 85% outages. About 80% of customers are without power in DeSoto County, while Sarasota, Collier and Manatee counties have about 50% of their power on.

Some school districts that closed campuses for the storm reopened on Friday, including Miami Dade and Broward counties. Dozens of school districts, however, remain closed until at least Friday as they face power outages and possible flooding.

Schools in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties could be closed for even longer. Lee County officials can’t even update the school district’s website due to breakdowns.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that the federal government has deployed “thousands” of people from FEMA, the cybersecurity infrastructure agency and even the TSA to help Florida.

“This is a whole-of-government, whole-of-community effort to meet the needs of a community that has been hit so devastatingly by this storm,” Mayorkas said in Morning Joe.

Arek Sarkissian, Myah Ward and Kelly Garrity contributed to this report.