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Ian was set to make landfall Friday afternoon on the coast of South Carolina after strengthening late Thursday into a Category 1 hurricane. It will then move inland across the state and into North Carolina by Saturday.
Trees have toppled, roads have flooded and over 69,000 households have already lost power in South Carolina, officials said at a Friday news conference. 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.” I have urged residents to stay off flooded roads.
“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.”
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 700,000 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.”
►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.
The destruction left behind by Ian has made it difficult to obtain 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 Deltonaabout 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.
After slowly moving across Florida, Hurricane Ian gained new strength over the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday before wreaking havoc on South Carolina, Georgia and more states along the East Coast. Check here for the latest updates on the storm’s strength and track where it’s headed next.
As of 2 pm Friday, Ian was about 55 miles east-northeast of Charleston, and was moving north at 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, the hurricane center said.
Heavy rains and tropical storm conditions had already reached the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas by Friday morning, where life-threatening storm surges 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 am, 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 like 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.
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.
Pawley’s 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 surges 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 flooding up to 4 to 7 feet.”
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 from Ella 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; Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism