Rescuers searched for survivors among the ruins of the flooded Florida homes from Hurricane Ian as authorities in South Carolina waited for daylight to assess damage from the storm’s second attack as the remnants of one of the strongest and costliest disasters that once struck the US continued to move north .
The powerful storm terrorized millions for most of the week, hitting western Cuba before moving through Florida from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mustered enough strength for a final assault on South Carolina. It has since weakened to a still-dangerous post-tropical cyclone, moving overnight through North Carolina toward Virginia, driving heavy rainfall toward the Mid-Atlantic states.
At least 34 people have died, including 23 in Florida, mostly from drowning but others from the tragic effects of the storm. An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines were turned off when the power went out, authorities said. Meanwhile, distraught residents waded through knee-high water on Friday, taking as many belongings as possible from their flooded homes and loading them onto rafts and canoes.
“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through her largely destroyed Fort Myers apartment, the mud in her kitchen clinging to her purple sandals.
In South Carolina, downtown Ian made landfall near Georgetown, a small community along Winyah Bay about 95 miles north of historic Charleston. The storm washed away parts of four piers along the coast, including two connected to the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach.
The storm’s winds were much weaker on Friday than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier this week. There, authorities and volunteers were still assessing the damage as horrified residents tried to understand what they had just experienced.
Anthony Rivera, 25, said he had to climb through the window of his first floor apartment during the storm to carry his grandmother and girlfriend to the second floor. As they rushed to escape the rising waters, the storm surge had washed up a boat right next to his apartment.
“That’s the scariest thing in the world because I can’t stop a boat,” he said. “I’m not Superman.”
Although Ian has long passed Florida, new problems kept cropping up. A 22-mile stretch of major Interstate 75 was closed in both directions in the Port Charlotte area late Friday due to the massive amount of water swelling the Myakka River.
The official death toll rose during the day on Friday, with authorities warning that it would likely rise much higher once the crew investigated the damage more thoroughly. Friday’s searches focused on emergency response and initial assessments, said Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s Department of Emergency Management. As an example he described a sunken house.
“The water was above the roof, correct, but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim in it and he could see that it appeared to be human remains. We don’t know exactly how much,” Guthrie said.
Drone footage captured before and after Hurricane Ian rammed Florida’s Punta Gorda on Wednesday reveal the devastating levels of flooding and destruction left by the storm.
The dead included a 68-year-old woman who was thrown into the ocean by a wave and a 67-year-old man who fell into rising water at his home while waiting for rescue.
Authorities also said a 22-year-old woman died after an ATV rollover from a washdown and a 71-year-old man suffered a fatal fall from a roof while putting on rain shutters. Earlier this week, three more people died in Cuba.
Hurricane Ian likely caused “more than $100 billion” in damage, including $63 billion in privately insured losses, according to disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, which regularly releases estimates of sudden catastrophes. If those numbers are confirmed, that would make Ian at least the fourth costliest hurricane in US history.
In the Sarasota suburb of North Point, Florida, residents of the Country Club Ridge subsection waded through swampy streets Friday. John Chihil solemnly towed a canoe and another boat through the ankle-deep water.
“There really isn’t much to feel. It’s an act of God, you know?” he said. “I mean, that’s all you can do is pray and hope for a better day tomorrow.”