Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina faced a massive cleanup on Saturday from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian, after one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and killed dozens.
New images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed several beach cottages and a motel building that lined the shores of Florida’s Sanibel Island HAD been wiped away by Ian’s storm surge. Even though most homes were still standing, they appeared to have roof damage, the images showed.
Ian, now a post-tropical cyclone, continued to weaken on Saturday but was still forecast to bring treacherous conditions to parts of the Central Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center, which added that flood watches were in effect across southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia.
“Major to record river flooding will continue across central Florida through next week. Limited flash, urban and small stream flooding is possible across the central Appalachians and the southern Mid-Atlantic this weekend, with minor river flooding expected over the coastal Carolinas,” the center said.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told reporters on Saturday there were no storm-related deaths in the state and that most electricity had been restored. However, he added: “We know we have much cleaning up and rebuilding to do.”
The storm struck Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, turning beach towns into disaster areas. On Friday, it pummeled waterfront Georgetown, South Carolina, north of the historic city of Charleston, with wind speeds of 85 miles (140 km) per hour.
Roads were flooded and blocked by trees while a number of piers were damaged.
About 1.5 million homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas, Virginia and Florida at 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Saturday, according to website PowerOutage.us. About 1.2 million of those outages were in Florida.
Both the number of casualties and repair costs remained unclear, but the extent of the damage was becoming apparent as Florida entered its third day after Ian first hit.
There were at least 35 deaths in Florida’s Lee County alone that were attributable to the hurricane, the county sheriff’s office said in a Facebook Post on Saturday morning. Many of the dead across Florida were elderly people, including a 92-year-old man, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said earlier.
In North Carolina, four people died in storm-related incidents, state officials said on Saturday.
Thousands of people were still unaccounted for in Florida, officials said, but many of them were likely in shelters or without power.
“We suffered more flood damage than wind damage,” Governor Ron DeSantis said Saturday. “That is going to require a lot of flood claims being filed.”
Insurers braced for a hit of between $28 billion and $47 billion, in what could be the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to US property data and analytics company CoreLogic.
President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to counties affected by the storm. The president said Ian was “likely to rank among the worst (storms) … in the nation’s history.” On Saturday, he declared an emergency in North Carolina.
The Florida city of Fort Myers, close to where the eye of the storm first came ashore, absorbed a major blow, with numerous houses destroyed.
Offshore, Sanibel Island, a popular destination for vacationers and retirees, was cut off when a causeway was rendered impassable.
Ricky Anderson, 57, a cashier who lived on Sanibel Island, said he “lost everything in the hurricane,” including his life savings and asked the government for help. Anderson said he only recently moved to Sanibel Island from Illinois in June.
“Where are all those people supposed to go that have no home anymore?” Anderson said.
Robert Hartman, 81, who has lived in Fort Myers for 50 years, said he needed the government’s help in the cleanup and repair of his residence from the damage caused by the storm. “We have no power, no phone service, nothing. We would just like a little help to get my home back in shape because I have nowhere to go,” he added, his voice choking.
At a mobile home park on San Carlos Island in Fort Myers Beach, the wind and water pushed trailers together. A boat lay on its side at a local marina, where another boat had come to rest in a tree.
Hundreds of miles north in Georgetown, residents were also trying to put their lives back together.
With a population of about 10,000, the town is a tourist destination known for its oak tree-lined streets and more than 50 sites on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.