The government of Florida, in the United States, said that 21 people died as a result of Hurricane Ian’s passage through the state and hundreds more are still missing.
After weakening to a tropical storm, Ian regained strength and returned to a hurricane category as it heads for South Carolina, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
In Florida, the phenomenon is still in a landscape of devastated cities, millions of people without electricity and fears that the human cost could be high.
“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” US President Joe Biden said during a visit to the Washington office of the federal agency that responds to natural disasters, FEMA.
Homes destroyed by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida — Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP
“The numbers (…) are still unclear, but we have received information that accounts for a substantial loss of life”he added, assuring that he intends to go as soon as possible to the state, but also to the island of Puerto Rico, recently affected by Hurricane Fiona.
At a Thursday night press conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he expected numerous deaths from the hurricane. He did not provide a provisional figure, preferring to wait for confirmation from the official balance sheet. “There have been over 700 confirmed rescues and there will certainly be many more when new data comes in.”
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A Charlotte County official, in the west of the state, confirmed to CNN International that “eight or nine” people had died, without giving details. A spokesperson for Volusia County, on the east coast, said it had recorded “the first death linked to Hurricane Ian”: a 72-year-old man, “who went out to empty the pool during the storm”.
At the same time, the search for 18 missing people continued on Wednesday (28), after a migrant vessel sank near the archipelago of the Keys. Four Cubans managed to swim to shore and the coast guard rescued five others.
After a night of anguish, Florida residents were checking the state of their homes and communities on Thursday. In the small west coast town of Iona, Ronnie Sutton, who has yet to return home, said he was convinced the water had destroyed everything.
‘Street turned into a pool’: the fear of Brazilians during Hurricane Ian’s passage through Florida – Photo: GETTY IMAGES
“It’s terrible. I think it’s the price to pay when you live at sea level. Sometimes it backfires,” he lamented.
Twenty kilometers away, in Fort Myers, rising water levels submerged some boats and dragged others into downtown streets. “There were scary noises, with debris flying everywhere, doors in the air,” said Tom Johnson, a resident who witnessed the destruction.
A classic car is seen in front of a house in a neighborhood hit by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida.
Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane (on a scale of up to 5) in southwest Florida, before continuing its advance across the state, with strong winds and torrential rain. On Thursday night (29), more than 3 million homes or businesses remained without electricity, out of a total of 11 million, according to the specialized website PowerOutage.
Punta Gorda, a small coastal town located in the path of the hurricane, dawned without electricity. As firefighters and police roamed the streets to assess the damage, a bulldozer was pulling up fallen palm leaves.
Ian uprooted some trees, as well as power poles and traffic lights. The heavy rains flooded the streets of the small port, where the water still reached the middle of the legs this Thursday morning.
Reporter Tony Atkins during the rescue of the woman in the middle of Hurricane Ian, in Florida – Photo: Reproduction / NBC
Joe Ketcham, a resident of the city, decided to stay home on Wednesday despite evacuation orders. “Now I’m calmer, but yesterday I was worried,” said the 70-year-old. “It was incessant. The wind was constantly blowing over our heads. We could hear the metal hitting the building. It was dark. We didn’t know what was happening outside,” he reported.
A woman is removed from a stretcher from a nursing home in a flooded area due to the passage of Hurricane Ian in Orlando, Florida (USA) – Photo: John Raoux/AP
Given the magnitude of the damage, Biden declared a major natural disaster, a decision that allows additional federal funds to be released to affected regions. Although weakened, Storm Ian continued its destructive course on Thursday towards South Carolina and then North Carolina and Georgia, in the southern United States.
The country’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the phenomenon caused winds of up to 100 km/h and “catastrophic” flooding in east-central Florida. Ian, who had earlier been relegated to a tropical storm, has regained strength and is heading north with hurricane power, according to the NHC’s updated bulletin.
The phenomenon, with winds of up to 120 km/h, has “potentially deadly” conditions, which include “floods, storm surges and strong gusts”. According to experts, as the surface of the oceans warms, the frequency of more intense hurricanes increases, with stronger winds and more rainfall, but not the total number of hurricanes.