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Ian made landfall Friday on the coast of South Carolina, inundating the region with potentially life-threatening flooding and damaging winds, just days after the storm battered Florida.
Ian hit near Georgetown, South Carolina, about 60 miles north of Charleston, just after 2 p.m. as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. The storm is expected to wreak havoc on the South Carolina, Georgia and other states along the East Coast as it moves inland by Saturday.
The storm weakened to a post-tropical cyclone Friday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
Trees have been toppled, roads flooded and over 69,000 households have already lost power in South Carolina, officials said at a Friday news conference. That number had risen to over 180,000 customers without power immediately after landfall, according to poweroutage.us. The state’s five shelters were at 15% capacity ahead of landfall.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said no deaths have been reported in the state yet, “but there’s still life-threatening conditions.” He urged residents to stay off flooded roadways.
“This is not as bad as it could have been. A lot of prayers have been answered,” he said. “…But we’re not out of the woods.”
Ian is the first landfalling hurricane in South Carolina since Matthew in 2016, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Officials in Florida, meanwhile, were assessing the damage and continuing search and rescue efforts after Ian slammed into the Fort Myers area on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. There were 21 deaths, but Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Friday that only one was confirmed as a result of the storm. Officials were still evaluating the cause of the 20 other deaths.
There had been 700 rescues as of Friday morning, officials said. Meanwhile, 1.9 million customers were still without power across the state, and Lee County was without water after a main break.
“There’s been really a Herculean effort,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday morning as crews worked to restore power, assess damage and rescue residents.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a joint letter Friday to the Senate Appropriations Committee chairs to secure funding to “provide much needed assistance to Florida.”
“Hurricane Ian will be remembered and studied as one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States,” they wrote. “Communities across Florida have been completely destroyed, and lives have been forever changed.”
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►In South Carolina, President Joe Biden declared an emergency and ordered federal assistance, according to the White House.
►Losses from Hurricane Ian so far range between $25 billion and $40 billion, the Fitch Ratings credit agency reported Thursday.
►At least nine people were rescued after a boat with more than 20 migrants sank in stormy weather near the Florida Keys. On Friday, the Coast Guard said one person’s body was recovered near Ocean Edge Marina.
►Airports in Tampa and Orlando were expected to reopen Friday, while Fort Myers Airport in southwest Florida remained closed Friday. More than 1,660 flights were canceled Friday due to the storm, according to FlightAware.
Death toll likely to grow in Florida
The destruction left behind by Ian has made it difficult to get an accurate assessment of the loss of life, but there are already reports of 21 deaths, officials said Friday morning.
State officials said only one of these deaths, in Polk County, was confirmed as a result of the storm, and authorities were still evaluating the cause of the 20 other deaths: eight were in Collier County and 12 were in Charlotte County, where the only operating hospital is no longer accepting new patients due to lack of capacity, Chris Constance, the county’s commissioner, told CNN.
But local officials in these areas were also reporting deaths:
- Sanibel Island officials reported two deaths on Thursday.
- In Lee County, which includes the island of Cayo Costa near Cape Coral where the storm made landfall, at least five deaths were confirmed, Sheriff Carmine Marceno told CNN.
- In Deltona, about 30 miles northeast of Orlando, a 72-year-old man died after falling into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.
- In Sarasota County, the sheriff’s office reported two deaths related to the hurricane after a 94-year-old man and 80-year-old woman died when their oxygen machines lost power during the storm.
Before hitting Florida, Ian also swept through Cuba earlier this week, killing three people.
Biden says Hurricane Ian devastation will take ‘years to rebuild’
President Joe Biden said Friday that Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history” after producing devastation in Florida that will take “months – years – to rebuild.”
“America’s heart is literally breaking,” Biden said. “I just want the people in Florida to know we see what you’re going through and we’re with you, and we’re going to do everything we can for you.”
Biden said the U.S. “pre-deployed” the largest team of search and rescue experts in recent American history that has so far rescued 117 people in southwest Florida.
The Biden administration Friday approved four additional Florida counties as part of a federal major disaster declaration in the state, expanding relief beyond the nine counties initially authorized. The move clears the way for FEMA assistance during recovery efforts.
— Joey Garrison, USA TODAY
Post-Tropical Cyclone Ian tracker
After slowly moving across Florida, Ian gained new strength over the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday before wreaking havoc on South Carolina, Georgia and more states along the East Coast.
It had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone as of Friday at 5 p.m., when it was located 20 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and was moving north at 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, the hurricane center said.
North Carolina braces for impact
In North Carolina, over 96,000 customers were without power Friday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, as the state also braced for flash floods and the potential for isolated tornadoes.
“Hurricane Ian is at our door,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
In Charleston, powerful wind gusts and rain as Ian approached
Heavy rains and tropical storm conditions had already reached the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas by Friday morning, where life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions were expected to develop. Rainfall of up to 8 inches threatened flooding from South Carolina to Virginia, the National Weather Service reported.
Widespread power outages were reported in Charleston as high winds whipped against trees and power lines.
Meteorologists were expecting conditions to steadily deteriorate across Charleston on Friday morning. Traffic had cleared the streets, muting the typically bustling morning commute ahead of the storm.
Some areas had already received between 2 and 3 inches of rain by 8 a.m., and “quite a bit of flooding” had begun inundating downtown Charleston as heavy rain fell amid rising tide levels, said Steven Taylor, a lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Charleston.
Wind gusts were observed along the Charleston County coast at 50 to 60 mph and the area could see between 4 to 7 feet of flooding Friday, Taylor said. “We recently had a wind gust as high as 66 mph on the south end of Folly Beach and winds continue to increase across the area,” Taylor told USA TODAY.
Ian’s center is expected to travel northeast of Charleston by Friday afternoon, and forecasters anticipate weakening of the storm as it moves into North Carolina.
Island forecast: A look at Kiawah, Hilton Head and Pawleys
Kiawah Island: Located about 26 miles south of Charleston, the island could see up to 1.5 inches of rain throughout Friday until Ian shifts to the north, said NWS Charleston meteorologist Douglas Berry. Gusts were ranging between 35 and 45 mph Friday morning, but he said the risk of flooding would be worse in Charleston and right along the coast.
The island’s location on Ian’s west side and an offshore flow – when air moves from land to sea – could lower Kiawah Island’s tides, resulting in minor possible coastal flooding issues through Friday afternoon. There are no current flood advisories for the island.
Hilton Head Island: Tropical storm conditions were expected along the island, which is about 97 miles southwest of Charleston. The popular tourist destination could see up to 2 inches of rain Friday, with hurricane conditions possible. A high surf advisory, flood watch and hurricane and storm surge warnings were in effect Friday morning.
Pawleys Island: Gusts up to 100 mph could be in store for Pawleys Island, located 73 miles north of Charleston, said NWS Wilmington meteorologist Jordan Baker. The island is under both storm surge and hurricane warnings. “Wind is certainly a big issue this time, and we’re watching the surge,” Baker told USA TODAY. “That area and could see inundation up to 4 to 7 feet.” A popular pier in the area collapsed and floated away amid the storm.
‘Heartbreaking’ aftermath on a tiny Florida island
On tiny Matlacha Island near Fort Myers, the clatter of helicopters and airboats grew as the day progressed Friday, with volunteers and formal authorities alike coordinating evacuations and searches. The air stunk of mud and rotting food, and dozens of houses were destroyed, with many more significantly damaged.
Ian knocked out both bridges to the island, a primarily residential area with small shops, motels and tiny homes, intertwined with canals and boat docks. The storm laid a carpet of slick mud along portions of the island, and the loss of power meant food was beginning to rapidly rot.
“It’s a mess,” said Sarah Yacko, 35, looking down from a second-floor balcony at the devastation in her neighborhood. “It’s really heartbreaking. I’ve been coming here since I was in diapers.”
Like many, Yacko and her family evacuated during the storm but returned immediately by boat, worried about their homes and cars. Boats jostled for position along the canal accessing the island, swerving to avoid floating debris and newly formed and uncharted sandbars.
Staggered by the destruction of her community, inn owner Janette Fraissinet, 61, took comfort in catching up with neighbors who’d also boated in for the day. She is not exactly sure what comes next — residents suspect it will be weeks before they get electricity back, and probably even longer to get drinking water, sewage service or a road back to the mainland. Her motel and the owner’s cottage are destroyed.
“Last week, a guy offered me a million dollars for the hotel,” she said. “Last week I was a millionaire. Now I’m homeless.”
Dragging a cooler filled with gas cans, Julie Burden, 45, worried aloud about the fate of the three adjacent small houses she owns: two are rentals, and she lived in the third with her young son and elderly grandfather.
Rounding the corner, she got her first glimpse of the street.
“Oh my God,” she repeated, her bare feet sliding in the mud. “Oh my God.”
All three of the homes were intact, but mud filled each, and the winds tore off portions of the roofs, and flipped the boat dock from the back door to the front.
“I was going to sit right there in that chair and ride it out but I looked at my little 9-year-old and he was so scared,” Burden said.
Burden said she planned to start cleaning her house immediately but despaired at the task ahead.
“I mean, it could have been worse,” she said.
Yolande Welch – 95, with a bandaged leg and an injured shoulder – sat at the Port Sanibel marina with a Sanibel firefighter’s hand on her shoulder.
Firefighters and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officers had rescued her from Sanibel earlier in the day. Welch heard a loud crash in her living room Wednesday as one of her glass pane doors snapped and threatened to break off. She hurt her shoulder while trying to hold onto the door.
“It was hell,” Welch said. “I’ve been through five hurricanes, and this is the worst one.”
Fort Lauderdale local Christopher Gyles has vacationed to Captiva Island with his family since 1991. Many of his 40 fellow family members fled to Fort Lauderdale, but some, including Gyles, stayed behind. Now, he said it was a bad idea.
Gyles said they watched debris being sucked into the gulf. It wasn’t until Thursday morning that they were rescued by boat.
Eric and Vera Siefert, longtime Sanibel and Captiva residents in their 60s, also said staying was a dangerous error. Four of the coconut trees on their property were ripped down by high winds. As the storm surge rose to about 10 feet, water began flooding into their home.
“We were afraid,” Eric said. “We were crawling on top of furniture and we thought it was going to be the end.”
– Lisa Nellessen Savage, The News-Press
Contributing: John Bacon, Thao Nguyen, Jorge Ortiz, Doyle Rice, Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; The Associated Press