Hurricane Ian destroyed a cross-section of Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, forcing patients from nursing homes and hospitals, cutting off a popular barrier island and obliterating a historic waterfront pier. Nearly 2.7 million people lost power as rain fell and waters rose.
Floodwaters rose waist-high near Orlando, far inland, 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.
WATCH: Sky 10 over damage left behind from Hurricane Ian in Estero, Fort Myers and on the Sanibel Bridge.
As of late Thursday afternoon, officials confirmed nine deaths as a result of the storm: six in Charlotte County, two in Sarasota County and one in Volusia County.
A 72-year-old man was found dead early Thursday in water in a canal behind his home in Deltona near Daytona Beach, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
It said he appeared to be using a hose to drain his pool into the wide canal and fell down an incline that was “extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain.”
Another Florida sheriff said he believed the death toll would be “in the hundreds.”
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his office was receiving thousands of 911 calls from people needing rescue in the county that includes Fort Myers, but roadways were still impassable and bridges are compromised.
“It crushed us,” Marceno said. “We still cannot access many of the people that are in need.”
DeSantis clarified the sheriff’s statements during his morning news conference.
“That number that was put out by Lee is basically an estimate of, ‘hey, these people were calling, the water was rising on their home, they might have not ended up getting through,’” DeSantis said. “So we’re obviously hoping that they can be rescued at this point.”
On Thursday, Ian produced catastrophic flooding over east-central Florida and is forecast to produce life-threatening flooding, storm surge and gusty winds across portions of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the entire coast of South Carolina.
In Port Charlotte, along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the storm surge flooded a lower-level emergency room in a hospital even as fierce winds ripped away part of the roof from its intensive care unit, according to a doctor who works there.
Water gushed down onto the ICU, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients -- some of whom were on ventilators — to other floors, said Dr. Birgit Bodine of HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital. Staff members used towels and plastic bins to try to mop up the sodden mess.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden approved DeSantis’ request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which unlocks federal assistance in affected areas for individuals; state, tribal, and local governments; and certain private nonprofit organizations.
According to the governor’s office, the declaration “makes federal funding available to governments and eligible nonprofit organizations in the affected areas for debris removal and emergency protective measures on a cost-sharing basis.”
For assistance, visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
The Florida Disaster Fund to support Florida’s communities impacted by Hurricane Ian has also been activated.
To contribute, please visit www.FloridaDisasterFund.org or text DISASTER to 20222.
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