MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Friday that one person was found dead near Ocean Edge Marina in Key West and 17 remain missing after a group of migrants from Cuba took to the sea amid Hurricane Ian.
Officials have confirmed that nine people have been rescued since Wednesday morning when the group’s boat sank in the Straits of Florida.
Four migrants were able to swim to shore.
The group had been out at sea for five days. They spoke exclusively with Local 10 News Wednesday night, describing a harrowing journey.
Their journey came as Hurricane Ian zeroed in on Florida, with high winds and rain pummeling the Keys the day prior.
#UPDATE @USCG air crews continue to search for the reported missing people in the water after an illegal migration venture failed off the #FloridaKeys.— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 29, 2022
Our ships are patrolling the #FloridaStraits assisting with search and rescue. #DontTakeToTheSea @USEmbCuba pic.twitter.com/nsWpiFQ9Z3
“We were close to the coast of Cuba for two days and two nights and they didn’t rescue us,” one migrant said. “Thirteen miles away, we lit things up and nothing. Two days, close to Cuba’s coast and no one rescued us.”
That migrant described extreme weather conditions.
“Waves 15 meters high, waves, waves ,waves, waves,” he said. “There was so much rain and on the third day, we were left without water.”
After being detained, four of the migrants were released to their families Wednesday afternoon. Four others remain in U.S. Border Patrol custody.
“From Friday at one in the morning until Tuesday, we spent six days out at sea,” one of the migrants said in Spanish to Local 10 News, adding that they made the incredibly dangerous journey, “for the right to be free.”
WATCH: One migrant recalls harrowing journey from Cuba to South Florida (Video in Spanish).
“It’s dangerous, but being free is worth more than the risk we are taking,” he said.
Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar, who leads the Border Patrol’s Miami sector, tweeted that the four migrants who made it to shore landed on Stock Island, immediately east of Key West.
Slosar, attributed the sinking to “inclement weather.”
Just before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard tweeted that its crews rescued three migrants from the water about two miles south of Boca Chica Key.
Those three migrants were taken to a local hospital for symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration, officials said, adding to the four migrants evaluated at the hospital after swimming ashore.
Air crews continued to search for the remaining missing migrants Friday.