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More than 700 rescues in Florida as ‘historic storm’ heads towards South Carolina - as it happened

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2022-09-30

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7.28am BST

We are pausing our live coverage for now. You can read the latest on Hurricane Ian as it moves towards South Carolina here:

Related: Hurricane Ian: ‘catastrophic’ damage in Florida as storm heads to South Carolina

7.08am BST

Summary

With South Carolina bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Ian on Friday morning, search and rescue operations in Florida continued throughout Thursday as the scale of devastation wrought by one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the US mainland became clear.

There is still no indication of the death toll at this stage, although the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, said he “fully expects” mortality and Joe Biden fears it could be the deadliest storm in Florida’s history.

At 2am in Florida, here is what we know:

  • President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in South Carolina , where Ian is expected to make landfall on Friday morning after once again strengthening to hurricane force. The storm is expected to strong winds, heavy rain and storm surges to the coasts of South Carolina and south-eastern North Carolina.

  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis said in a press conference on Thursday that more than 700 people had been rescued by the Coast Guard and other organizations following the storm.

  • The number of deaths from Ian remains unknown , with DeSantis refusing to speculate on the possible toll in his evening update. Reports indicated at least four confirmed deaths, however, with local officials suggesting there would be more. Biden had earlier said Ian could prove to be the deadliest storm in Florida history.

  • DeSantis has reportedly asked Biden for federal disaster recovery funding , despite strongly opposing such measures in the past.

  • An early study, which has not been peer-reviewed, suggests climate change added 10% to Ian’s rainfall totals. Forecasters predict Ian will have dropped up to two feet (61cm) of rain in parts of Florida by the time it stops.

  • More than 2.2 million households and businesses are still without power in Florida , with DeSantis saying thousands of people were working to restore essential services in hard hit areas.

  • Some wastewater facilities in Florida are discharging untreated sewage as storms overwhelm them, leading to untold environmental impacts.

Updated at 7.11am BST

6.51am BST

Protesters in Havana demand return of electricity

Before its catastrophic arrival in Florida on Wednesday, Hurricane Ian pummelled Cuba, causing three deaths and a blackout of the entire island.

On Thursday night, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of Cubans took to the streets demanding the restoration of electricity, protesting more than two days after the power went out.

An Associated Press journalist saw a total of about 400 people gathered in at least two spots in the Cerro neighborhood shouting, “We want light, we want light,” and banging pots and pans.

It was the first public outpouring of anger after electricity problems spread from western Cuba, where Ian hit, and knocked out all of the island’s power grid Tuesday night, leaving its 11 million people in the dark.

In addition to power problems Thursday in Havana, internet service was out and cellphones did not work.

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A woman burns objects in the street during a power outage in Havana. Photograph: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

6.23am BST

Charleston, where Ian is expected to make landfall, may be particularly at risk from flooding, Reuters reports.

A city-commissioned report released in November 2020 found about 90% of all residential properties were vulnerable to storm surge flooding.

Parts of north-east South Carolina, near Charleston, could also experience up to 8 inches of rain.

Predicted storm surges were not as severe as those issued by the NHC when the storm was approaching Florida. Edisto Beach, South Carolina, a resort destination about 30 miles south of Charleston, was expected to see a 4- to 7-foot surge.

North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, urged residents to “take necessary precautions,” warning of possible flooding, landslides and tornadoes. “This storm is still dangerous,” Cooper said.

5.58am BST

Winds increase as Ian approaches South Carolina

With all of South Carolina’s coast under a hurricane warning, a steady stream of vehicles left Charleston on Thursday, many likely heeding officials’ warnings to seek higher ground. Storefronts were sandbagged to ward off high water levels in an area prone to inundation.

Along the Battery area at the southern tip of the 350-year-old city’s peninsula, locals and tourists alike took selfies against the choppy backdrop of whitecaps in Charleston Harbor as palm trees bent in gusty wind.

With winds picking up to 80 mph (129 kph) near midnight Thursday, Ian was forecast to shove a storm surge of 5 feet (1.5 meters) into coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas. Rainfall of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) threatened flooding from South Carolina to Virginia.

Updated at 6.29am BST

5.40am BST

A number of reports have mentioned Sanibel Island has been cut off from the mainland after the bridge connecting it to Fort Myers was damaged. These images vividly show the ferocity of the storm.

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A broken section of the bridge between Sanibel Island and Fort Myers. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
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Water floods through the breach in the causeway. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

5.11am BST

Biden declares state of emergency in South Carolina

South Carolina is now bracing for the arrival of Ian, with Joe Biden declaring a state of emergency.

The storm is expected to hit on Friday, bringing hurricane-force winds, heavy rain and storm surges to the coasts of South Carolina and south-eastern North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Centre.

Ian is forecast to make landfall late on Friday morning, but it effects will start to be felt much earlier.

The national guard has taken up positions to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues, while on Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of vehicles left Charleston.

Updated at 5.26am BST

4.32am BST

DeSantis ‘fully expects’ mortality

At his evening news briefing, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, acknowledged some people had perished but warned against speculating before official confirmation.

“We fully expect to have mortality from this hurricane,” he said.

DeSantis said at least 700 rescues, mostly by air, had been conducted, involving the US Coast Guard, National Guard and urban search-and-rescue teams, and that in some areas first responders were now going house-to-house to check on residents.

The coast guard began rescue efforts hours before daybreak on barrier islands near where Ian struck, he said.

DeSantis viewed Charlotte and Lee counties on Thursday and spoke of “indescribable” damage and the likelihood of services being disrupted for weeks to come.

“We have thousands and thousands of people on the ground working to restore power, opening roads, working to restore communications,” he said.

The New York Times has reported that despite adamantly opposing government assistance for natural disasters in the past, including in the case of Hurricane Sandy in 2013, DeSantis is now requesting the Biden administration give the state funds for recovery from Hurricane Ian.

In an interview with conservative host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night, DeSantis requested full federal reimbursement for storm-related costs for 60 days.

“As you say, Tucker, we live in a very politicized time,” he said. “But you know, when people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they’ve lost everything — if you can’t put politics aside for that, then you’re just not going to be able to.”

Updated at 6.14am BST

4.03am BST

The National Hurricane Centre says Ian could strengthen again before making landfall in South Carolina on Friday.

3.57am BST

‘I need almost everything’

In hard-hit Fort Myers , Valerie Bartley’s family spent desperate hours holding a dining room table against the patio door, fearing the storm “was tearing our house apart”.

“I was terrified,” Bartley told AP. “What we heard was the shingles and debris from everything in the neighborhood hitting our house.”

As residents emerged on Thursday, long lines formed at gas stations and a Home Depot hardware store opened, letting in a few customers at a time.

Frank Pino was near the back of the line, with about 100 people in front of him.
“I hope they leave something,” Pino said, “because I need almost everything.”

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Areas of Fort Myers were devastated by the storm. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Updated at 3.58am BST

3.32am BST

Climate change added at least 10% more rain to Hurricane Ian, a study prepared immediately after the storm shows.

AP reports that Thursday’s research, which is not peer-reviewed, compared peak rainfall rates during the real storm to about 20 different computer scenarios of a model with Hurricane Ian’s characteristics slamming into the Sunshine State in a world with no human-caused climate change.

“The real storm was 10% wetter than the storm that might have been,” said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab climate scientist Michael Wehner, study co-author.

Forecasters predict Ian will have dropped up to two feet (61cm) of rain in parts of Florida by the time it stops.

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Homes are surrounded by flood waters in Fort Myers on Thursday. Photograph: Marta Lavandier/AP

3.16am BST

While Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has not released an official death toll, the Associated Press is reporting that four people in the US are confirmed to have died.

The US death toll from Hurricane Ian’s passage has risen to four overall after an official said late Thursday that two people were confirmed dead on a hard-hit barrier island on Florida’s western coast.

Dana Souza, city manager of Sanibel, said the deaths were confirmed by fire officials but offered no other specifics. A local medical examiner’s office said it could not comment and any details on deaths would have to come from the sheriff’s office.

In addition to the two Sanibel residents, a 38-year old man from Lake County died Wednesday in a motor vehicle accident after his vehicle hydroplaned, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Medical examiners determined that his death was storm-related.

A 72-year old man from Deltona also was confirmed dead on Thursday. Officials with the Volusia County sheriff’s office said the man went outside to drain his pool and fell into a canal. He was later found dead.

Three other people were reported killed in Cuba after the hurricane struck there on Tuesday.

Updated at 6.54am BST

3.04am BST

Late Night Summary

Kari Paul here, logging off for the night. As evening sets in on Florida and other states impacted by Hurricane Ian, here is the latest on the storm.

  • Hurricane Ian is now on its way to South Carolina after wreaking havoc on Florida, leaving nearly 2.7 million people without power.

  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis said in a press conference on Thursday more than 700 people had been rescued by the Coast Guard and other organizations following the storm. He declined to share a mortality count from the storm and said deaths would be confirmed in coming days.

  • A viral video of what appears to be a shark swimming through the streets of Florida is being circulated.

  • Some wastewater facilities in Florida are discharging untreated sewage as storms overwhelm them, leading to untold environmental impacts.

Updated at 3.10am BST

2.54am BST

DeSantis changes his tone on government assistance, requesting support from Biden adminstration

The Times is reporting that despite adamantly opposing government assistance for natural disasters in the past, including in the case of Hurricane Sandy in 2013, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is requesting the Biden administration give the state funds for recovery from Hurricane Ian.

In an interview with conservative host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night, DeSantis requested full federal reimbursement for storm-related costs for 60 days.

“As you say, Tucker, we live in a very politicized time,” he said. “But you know, when people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they’ve lost everything — if you can’t put politics aside for that, then you’re just not going to be able to.”

2.23am BST

Survivors’ stories begin to emerge

Over at the Washington Post, harrowing stories from those who narrowly escaped Hurricane Ian.

“It was just like five, six hours of pure madness,” one survivor said. Another reported seeing a massive school of fish swim by his house. One woman said in just a few minutes more than a foot of water had flooded her house.

The report comes as Florida governor Ron DeSantis shared in a press conference on Thursday that more than 700 people had been rescued from their homes in the aftermath of the storm. He said an official death count from the first days of impact has not yet been released.

2.18am BST

Drone footage shows damage in Fort M yers

More aerial footage has emerged of Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf coast, which was battered by the storm. The video shows boats washed ashore and lodged between buildings, Reuters reported.

Updated at 2.22am BST

1.56am BST

Governor DeSantis hosts live press conference on rescue efforts

Florida governor Ron DeSantis hosted a press conference regarding the damage from Hurricane Ian and how cleanup and rescue efforts will proceed.

DeSantis said Coast Guard and other rescue teams have been aiding stranded residents, with more than 700 people rescued in the last 24 hours.

He said power generators and fuel are being delivered to hospitals and food, water, and other supplies are also being distributed to those who did not evacuate.

DeSantis declined to confirm a death count from the hurricane and said rate of mortality from the storm will be determined in the coming days.

Updated at 2.02am BST

1.23am BST

Some wastewater treatment facilities in Florida are discharging raw or partially treated waste into local waterways, the New York Times has reported .

Florida’s department of environmental protection said that at least a dozen facilities have reported discharging waste, which can “contain bacteria or other disease-causing organisms as well as high levels of nitrogen and phosphates”, the Times reported.

This comes as the storm continues to South Carolina, where more water treatment facilities could be at risk. From the Times:

South Carolina doesn’t require such facilities to submit storm water data or plans to the state, said Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney at the law center, so it is difficult to know how prepared they are. “We have no idea if they are meeting their requirements for normal storms,” he said. “When you get a major storm like this, we are very concerned the facilities won’t be ready.”

Such discharging of waste could impact water quality and cause mass die-offs of local wildlife, as was seen in Florida in 2021 and in the Bay Area more recently . Experts say it will take time to assess the damage.

Updated at 1.38am BST

1.07am BST

Hello, readers! Kari Paul here on the west coast, I will be publishing updates on the ongoing storm for the next couple of hours. Stay tuned.

Updated at 1.17am BST

12.53am BST

A viral video of what appear s to be a shark swimming through flooded streets has raised skepticism, disbelief and many questions

The AP reports :

The eye-popping video, which showed a large, dark fish with sharp dorsal fins thrashing around an inundated Fort Myers backyard, racked up more than 12 million views on Twitter within a day, as users responded with disbelief and comparisons to the “Sharknado” film series.

Dominic Cameratta, a local real estate developer, confirmed he filmed the clip from his back patio Wednesday morning when he saw something “flopping around” in his neighbor’s flooded yard.

“I didn’t know what it was – it just looked like a fish or something,” he told The Associated Press. “I zoomed in, and all my friends are like, ‘It’s like a shark, man!’”

He guessed the fish was about 4 feet in length.

Experts were of mixed opinion on whether the clip showed a shark or another large fish. George Burgess, former director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark program, said in an email that it “appears to be a juvenile shark,” while Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, director of the University of Miami’s shark conservation program, wrote that “it’s pretty hard to tell.”

Nevertheless, some Twitter users dubbed the hapless fish the “street shark.”

The surge worsened in Fort Myers as the day went on. Cameratta said the flooding had only just begun when the clip was taken, but that the waters were “all the way up to our house” by the time the AP reached him by phone Wednesday evening.

The AP confirmed through the original clip’s metadata that it was captured Wednesday morning.

“It makes a bit more sense from a flooding standpoint,” she said by email, when informed the fish was spotted near an overflowing pond. “But how on earth would a shark go from the Gulf of Mexico to a retention pond?”

Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist who studies shark behavior at Florida International University, said that most sharks flee shallow bays ahead of hurricanes, possibly tipped off to their arrival by a change in barometric pressure. A shark could have accidentally swum up into the creek, he said, or been washed into it.

Updated at 1.06am BST

12.22am BST

The National Hurricane Center has issued storm surge warnings for much of the US’s south-east coast, from Florida to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

Updated at 12.29am BST

12.05am BST

In an editorial, the Miami Herald has issued a strong directive to Florida’s governor and other politicians: “Culture wars won’t fix Florida after Hurricane Ian. Time for real work, lawmakers.”

In the devastating wake of Ian, the newspaper’s editorial board urges the state’s leaders to put aside partisan posturing.

In the aftermath of such a vast natural disaster, the needs will be huge and they’ll last for years — something that DeSantis may not have understood when, as a newly elected congressman from Florida, he voted against aid for those in New York and New Jersey hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

He later explained that he felt the money was appropriated for too many years and some would be used for “extraneous stuff” that could not be called emergencies. This time, though, the storm hit here. The problems are here. The effects – enormous, long-lasting and too overwhelming for the state to bear alone – will be here, now and far in the future. Not extraneous at all.

The governor asked for and got a major disaster declaration from President Biden and, with it, federal assistance to help Floridians piece their lives back together. That was clearly the only thing to do, even in such a bitterly partisan era, just six weeks out from elections. It’s funny how the harsh realities of Hurricane Ian expose the culture wars for what they are: empty distractions ginned up by faux outrage.

DeSantis, has earned a reputation as a culture warrior as he auditions for the presidency. In recent weeks, he has had an election security office he established arrest a number of residents with former felony convictions for voter fraud – though the cases now seem to be falling apart. He oversaw an operation to fly migrants, under false pretenses, to Martha’s Vineyard, all to make a political point. The effort is now under criminal investigation.

In the coming weeks and months, the Herald’s editorial board writes, DeSantis and other lawmakers will have to shift their focus to help Floridians find shelter and rebuild, deal with property insurance woes, and vote in communities destroyed by the storm.

Culture wars don’t get people into dry housing or rebuild causeways or address billions of dollars in damages. Banning books or attacking critical race theory won’t help fix loss of life and property. How will our leaders handle this moment? A lot hangs in the balance.

Read more here .

Updated at 12.22am BST

11.37pm BST

California is among the states deploying emergency personnel to Florida to help in the aftermath of Ian.

Both states have found themselves grappling with devastating extreme weather in recent years.

Updated at 11.45pm BST

10.50pm BST

Here’s a striking graphic from the AP, showing all the areas where Ian knocked out power.

Updated at 10.58pm BST

10.31pm BST

Ian regains hurricane strength

Ian has regained hurricane strength, with maximum sustained winds increasing to 75 mph.

“Ian could slightly strengthen before landfall tomorrow, and is forecast to rapidly weaken over the south-eastern United States late Friday into Saturday,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Updated at 12.09am BST

10.05pm BST

‘Historic storm’: floods strand Florida residents as Hurricane Ian heads to South Carolina

Emergency crews on boats and helicopters were racing to reach stranded residents of Florida’s Gulf Coast after Ian, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the US mainland, left behind deadly floodwaters, downed power lines and widespread damage.

Ian flooded Gulf Coast communities before plowing across the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean, where it regained hurricane strength as it spun towards South Carolina. It is expected to make a second landfall there on Friday morning.

The extent of deaths and injuries remained uncertain.

President Joe Biden, speaking earlier at Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) headquarters in Washington, said Ian could prove to be the deadliest in Florida history. “The numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life,” Biden said.

Officials locally were more cautious. Chris Constance, commissioner of Charlotte county, said he knew of six confirmed fatalities, but was unaware of the circumstances. In Lee county, sheriff Carmine Marceno said he was aware of “roughly five”.

Authorities confirmed at least one Florida death — a 72-year-old man in Deltona who fell into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said. Two other storm deaths were reported in Cuba.

Updated at 10.47pm BST

9.56pm BST

While it is difficult to define the impact of the climate crisis on any specific storm or extreme weather event, scientists agree that global heating makes storms like Ian more common – and dangerous.

As sea levels rise, flooding from storms is projected to get worse. In the case of Hurricane Ian, data from Noaa suggest that had the same storm occurred in the 1960s, its impact might have been at least slightly diminished. Sea levels in Fort Myers have risen about half a foot since then.

Warmer conditions – and a warmer planet – also drives more flooding, research has shown. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor – and a study found that in 2017, record high temperatures driven in part by global heating increase the amount of rain that Hurricane Harvey poured down.

And finally, warmer water can increase the speed and intensity of a hurricane – fueling how fast it spins. Studies suggests that hurricanes in the Atlantic are more likely to gain power more quickly as the earth warms.

Updated at 10.19pm BST

9.29pm BST

Search and rescue teams are wading through hard-hit areas, looking for survivors. Many fatalities tend to occur after the worst of the storm passes – due to downed power lines, generator issues and damaged infrastructure.

In many neighborhoods, streets have transformed into rivers – and both first responders and residents are using boats and canoes to make their way through.

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Search and rescue personnel wade through a neighborhood in Fort Myers, Florida. Photograph: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
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People paddle by a submerged car in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
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People carry their belongings as they wade through water in a flooded neighborhood. Photograph: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

9.02pm BST

Flights have been cancelled across multiple cities in Florida amid the storm.

Orlando International Airport announced that all flight operations have ceased.

Similarly, Southwest Florida International Airport said that the airport remains closed as of Thursday.

“We are working to assess damage to RSW’s facilities and property. All flights are cancelled today,” it said.

Jacksonville International Airport has also cancelled all flights for today and its terminal remains closed.

“The airport will reopen as soon as the airfield and terminal are deemed safe for flight ops,” the airport said in a statement .

Updated at 9.22pm BST

8.24pm BST

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the tropical storm will continue to produce life-threatening flooding across the Atlantic coast and expects Ian to become a hurricane again by this evening.

In its advisory released this afternoon, the NHC wrote, “Ian forecast to produce life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds across portions of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.”

It added that Ian, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, is moving toward the north-northeast near 9mph or 15km/h, and predicts that it will become a hurricane later tonight.

“Ian is expected to become a hurricane again by this evening and make landfall as a hurricane on Friday, with rapid weakening forecast after landfall,” it added.

Updated at 8.31pm BST

8.07pm BST

Evacuation orders have been lifted from the counties of Pinellas and Hillsborough.

“As the path of Hurricane Ian takes it and its hazardous conditions away from Hillsborough County, and following initial safety assessments, County Administrator Bonnie M. Wise has rescinded existing Orders of Evacuation for Hillsborough County,” the county said in a statement online.

“After sheltering over 8,000 evacuees in 47 general population, pet-friendly, and special-needs shelters, Hillsborough County is preparing to conclude sheltering operations or transitioning shelter availability for evacuees who continue to need assistance.”

It encouraged residents whose homes have been damaged to find a safe place to stay, be it with family, friends or nearby hotels.

Similarly, Pinellas county announced that mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted for all evacuation zones, mobile home communities and residential health care facilities as of 9am.

“County crews and first responders are proactively conducting damage assessments and response as needed,” it added.

Updated at 8.29pm BST

7.51pm BST

Aerial footage shows destruction and flooding caused by Hurricane Ian – video

7.34pm BST

Today so far

The “catastrophic” scale of damage and danger wreaked by Hurricane Ian’s 150mph deadly rampage across Florida is still unfolding, as emergency crews continue to battle to rescue residents from flooded homes, and authorities warn of the probability of numerous fatalities. We’ll continue to bring you developments as they emerge.

Here’s where things stand:

  • US president Joe Biden warned a short time ago, of the storm’s effects: It is still moving across the state today. This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history. The numbers are still unclear but we are hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life. The death toll so far is not known.

  • The National Hurricane Center said that , after making landfall in south-west Florida, the monster storm is expected to take: “A turn toward the north-northeast … later today, followed by a turn toward the north and north-northwest with an increase in forward speed Friday and Friday night.” The center of the hurricane is expected to move off the east-central coast of Florida and will make its way to the coast of South Carolina on Friday.

  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis said this morning that: “We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude.”

  • Biden approved a Florida disaster declaration. The move by the president sends federal money to help state, tribal and local recovery efforts, including debris removal, emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation. Crucially, it also makes federal funds available to individuals in specific counties.

Updated at 9.17pm BST

7.10pm BST

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is holding a press conference now and describing how some coastal areas near Fort Myers took “a huge, huge wallop” from the hurricane.

He described Sanibel Island there as, simply, “destruction” to “a beautiful place, really neat community.”

“They got hit with biblical storm surge, it’s washed away roads, washed away structures,” he said, also mentioning, as earlier reported, the collapse of a chunk of the road bridge connecting the island to the mainland near Fort Myers Beach.

“Let’s work on Sanibel and let’s bring it back as soon as we can,” he said.

6.51pm BST

Over 70 medical responders and supplies from the National Disaster Medical System have been deployed to Florida to assist with post-hurricane rescue and recovery efforts.

“We’re monitoring the situation and we’re prepared to provide additional support as needed,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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In this photo provided by the Orange County Fire Rescue’s Public Information Office, firefighters in Orange County, Fla., help people stranded by Hurricane Ian early Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Photograph: AP

6.15pm BST

Biden: early reports show ‘what may be substantial loss of life’

There are reports of “what may be substantial loss of life,” president Joe Biden said while speaking at the FEMA headquarters in Washington DC this afternoon.

Speaking about Hurricane Ian, Biden said, “It is still moving across the state today. This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history. The numbers are still unclear but we are hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.”

The president continued, “My message to the people of Florida and to the country: At times like this, America comes together. We’re going to pull together as one team, as one America.”

“However long it takes, we’re going to get there,” Biden said, adding, “That’s my commitment to you.”

Updated at 6.27pm BST

5.53pm BST

Charlotte county officials said on Thursday morning that they are cautiously optimistic that the worst-case scenarios they anticipated as a result of Hurricane Ian did not come true.

Speaking at a press conference , Charlotte county’s emergency management director Patrick Fuller said, “We’re cautiously optimistic that the worst-case scenario that was forecast did not come true.”

Nevertheless, he added that “there is damage throughout the county that we are continuing to assess.”

“The integrity of the homes is far better than we anticipated, but we have rescue crews and federal and state assets whose main priority is to ensure that they gain access to those islands,” he added.

The county is currently going through one of the most widespread power outages across the state, with nearly 90% of tracked customers reporting outages, according to PowerOutages.us.

“If you decided to evacuate, now is not the time to return regardless of where you live in Charlotte County. The roads are extremely dangerous with many unknown hazards,” the county said in a Facebook post .

Updated at 6.22pm BST

5.20pm BST

The electricity services company Florida Power and Light has restored service to over 500,000 customers that have been hit by Hurricane Ian.

Nevertheless, it “anticipates some customers will face prolonged outages because portions of the electric system in Southwest Florida will need to be rebuilt rather than repaired,” the company said in a statement, Reuters reports.

According to FPL, it increased its restoration workforce from 13,000 prior to the storm to over 20,000, including assistance from utilities and others in 30 states.

Florida Power & Light is currently the utility with the most outages across Florida.

4.47pm BST

A man has died overnight in Volusia county during the storm, local authorities announced.

In a statement released on Thursday morning, the Volusia sheriff’s department said that a 72-year-old Deltona man died overnight after he went outside during the storm to drain his pool.

“Deputies responded to a home on Poinciana Lane near Lake Bethel around 1 a.m. after the victim’s wife reported he disappeared after heading outside. While searching for him, deputies found his flashlight, then spotted the victim unresponsive in a canal behind the home.

Several deputies pulled the victim from the water and performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but the victim could not be revived. He was later pronounced deceased at the hospital,” the statement said.

According to initial investigation findings, the man was attempting to use a hose to drain the pool down a hill and into a 30-foot-wide canal, “where a steep decline into the water was extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain.”

The county’s curfew which was in place last night has been extended until 7am Friday morning, said Volusia county manager George Recktenwald.

Updated at 4.58pm BST

4.16pm BST

Video has emerged of a shopping cent er sign collapsing in Jacksonville, Florida just as a reporter was about to go on air.

The First Coast News reporter can be see darting back in shock as the structure collapsed.

“Please tell me you were recording…oh my gosh!” she said.

Meanwhile, another reporter has gone viral after she appeared to use a condom to keep her microphone dry while reporting in the storm.

NBC2 reporter Kyla Galer confirmed her unconventional protective equipment, saying, “It helps protect the gear, we can’t get these mics wet. There’s a lot of wind, there’s a lot of rain so we gotta do what we gotta do.”

Updated at 4.55pm BST

3.51pm BST

A video of a man rescuing a cat during Hurricane Ian in south-west Florida has gone viral overnight, prompting praise from many viewers.

“My boyfriend saving a cat from flood waters near Bonita Beach,” wrote Megan Cruz Scavo in a caption that accompanied a video of her boyfriend, 29-year old Mike Ross, treading across knee-deep water to rescue a terrified-looking cat sitting atop an air conditioner.

Ross’s mother, Marybeth Ross, filmed the rescue and can be heard saying, “Look at Michael saving the kitty. Awww!”

The video has since been viewed 3.1 million times on Twitter and has garnered significant praise and celebration.

“I’m sorry, Megan, but he is everyone’s boyfriend now. I don’t make the rules,” wrote one user.

“Watching him approach the cat with respect was beautiful! That poor sweetie was clearly afraid, and trusted him to care for it,” someone else said .

Updated at 5.02pm BST

3.27pm BST

A hospital in Englewood, Florida is transferring patients to its other facilities as a result of the storm.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, HCA Florida Englewood Hospital announced that it has suspended all services and is currently “transferring patients to other HCA Florida Healthcare hospitals” as a “necessary step in preparing for Hurricane Ian.”

The hospital has also set up patient reunification hotline for patients’ families.

3.02pm BST

Hurricane Ian moving toward the north-east

Hurricane Ian is moving toward the north-east near 8 mph (13 km/h), according to an advisory released by National Hurricane Center this morning.

“A turn toward the north-northeast is expected later today, followed by a turn toward the north and north-northwest with an increase in forward speed Friday and Friday night,” it said.

The center of the hurricane is expected to move off the east-central coast of Florida and will make its way to the coast of South Carolina on Friday.

On Friday night and Saturday, the center will move farther inland cross the Carolinas, the advisory said, adding that maximum sustained winds will remain near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts.

Interactive

Updated at 3.51pm BST

2.50pm BST

Section of major Florida bridge destroyed by hurricane

A section of the Sanibel Causeway – a major roadway connecting the Sanibel and Captiva Islands to the mainland – has been destroyed by Hurricane Ian.

“Where the bridge rises from the mainland toward the island, one of the first sections of the span has disappeared. Crumbled pavement lies near the water’s edge. The rest of the bridge stretches forward, unreachable,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The pavement surrounding the bridge is described to have “folded up like an accordion, ripped to ribbons.”

“Two cars tried to pass out to the island about 1:30 a.m., including a group of young men hoping to reach their friend. They had to turn around,” the outlet added.

Updated at 2.53pm BST

2.35pm BST

Joe Biden will be sending his Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator to Florida tomorrow to assess response efforts, the White House said.

A White House statement released on Thursday morning said:

“The President spoke this morning with Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida to discuss the steps the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to support Florida in response to Hurricane Ian, including the issuance of a Disaster Declaration this morning.”

“The President told the Governor he is sending his FEMA Administrator to Florida tomorrow to check in on response efforts and see where additional support is needed. The President and Governor committed to continued close coordination,” it added.

Updated at 3.49pm BST

2.20pm BST

There will be more clarity on the number of fatalities across the state later today, the governor said.

“My sense is is that you know, that water was very, very high,” DeSantis said, adding, “Hopefully we’ll be able to see a lot of those people brought to safety.”

2.15pm BST

Florida has received over 15,000 inputs to their shelter in place system, Florida Division of Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said at the press conference.

He went on to call for those who did not evacuate “to provide critical information to first responders.”

2.13pm BST

The number of fatalities across the state has not been confirmed, said DeSantis.

What has been confirmed are the numerous 911 calls from residents who have been trapped in their homes by flood waters. “Those folks are going to be checked on” in the coming days, the governor said.

Nevertheless, he said that “we have had two unconfirmed fatalities” that may be linked to the storm.

2.08pm BST

DeSantis: 'We’ve never seen a flood event like this'

“We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” the governor said.

With numerous interruptions in communication across the state, DeSantis announced that 100 portable cell towers are being deployed to southwest Florida.

Updated at 3.50pm BST

2.06pm BST

“As soon as the storm passed, in the very wee hours of the morning first responders from the local, state and federal level, descended on Southwest Florida,” DeSantis said.

The governor went on to describe the storm event and the damage it has done as “historic.”

2.03pm BST

26 states have provided support to Florida amid the damages that Hurricane Ian has left across the state.

“It’s going to be put to use,” DeSantis said on Thursday morning.

Updated at 2.03pm BST

2.01pm BST

“We have been granted 100 % federal assistance … for 30 days. F ema [Federal Emergency Management Agency] has activated individual assistance for those who may need and qualify for help,” the governor said.

He added that he spoke with president Joe Biden about the damages earlier this morning and thanked him for federal assistance.

Updated at 2.25pm BST

1.59pm BST

There are 2.02 million power outages as of 6am this morning in southwest Florida, Florida governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference this morning.

The counties that have been hardest hit by the power outages are Lee and Charlotte counties.

“Lee and Charlotte are basically off the grid at this point,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be more than just connecting a power line to a pole” to restore the power.

Updated at 2.04pm BST

1.52pm BST

Florida governor Ron DeSantis will be holding a press conference shortly on the latest developments regarding Hurricane Ian.

DeSantis will address the state from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

More details to come…

Hi everyone, this is Maya Yang and I will be bringing you the latest updates on the storm. Stay tuned.

1.30pm BST

How the hurricane looked this morning between 4am-10am ET as the sun rose over a badly damaged Florida:

Interactive
Credit: CIRA/NOAA

And some photographs from across America’s third-most populous state, where rescue workers and residents began the search for missing people and the slow process of salvaging wrecked homes:

Related: Hurricane Ian hits Florida – in pictures

1.01pm BST

Biden declares official disaster in Florida

Joe Biden has approved a Florida disaster declaration.

The move by the president sends federal money to help state, tribal and local recovery efforts, including debris removal, emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation.

Crucially, it also makes federal funds available to individuals in specific counties, many in central Florida – Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota – which would allow them to “apply for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster”.

The help comes on top of already-extensive assistance from the Biden administration for Florida:

Updated at 1.31pm BST

12.51pm BST

Florida is not just the flattest US state – much of it is at, or near, sea level.

That’s a concern. As my colleague Richard Luscombe noted yesterday: “One of the mantras of major hurricanes is that you can shelter from the wind – which is up to 155mph in the case of Hurricane Ian – but you can’t hide from the water.”

The storm surge of up to 18ft, as predicted by the National Hurricane Center in Florida, remains a great threat, according to FEMA.

Here’s where it is expected to hit:

We’re really concerned about all of the inland flooding because it’s bringing with it a lot of rain and it’s going to move slowly, which means people in the path are going to experience the impacts for a long period of time,” Deanne Criswell , administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), told CNN yesterday.

My biggest concerns is the water, the storm surge and flooding. Water is one of the leading causes of death, direct fatalities, in these storms. We know that a lot of people have evacuated but we also know there’s people that haven’t.”

AP reports that emergency crews are sawing through toppled trees to reach people in flooded homes, but with no electricity and virtually no cell service, it was impossible for many people to call for help from the hardest hit coastal areas where the surge came in.

“Portable towers are on the way for cell service. Chances are your loved ones do not have ability to contact you,” said the sheriff’s office in Collier County , which includes Naples.

“We can tell you as daylight reveals the aftermath, it’s going to be a hard day.”

Related: Hurricane Ian hits Florida – in pictures

Updated at 1.31pm BST

12.34pm BST

Flooding is the key threat now posed by Ian – and it is central Florida , rather than Tampa Bay (which initially appeared in the hurricane’s sights) that is most at risk.

The NOAA says water levels are subsiding along the coast but hurricane conditions are possible along the coasts of northeastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina , where a hurricane watch is in effect.

The agency said “life-threatening catastrophic flooding”, with major or even record river flooding, will continue across portions of central Florida.

Flash flood emergencies are in place in many areas:

And the National Hurricane Center is warning of huge amounts of rain along more or less the entire US east coast up to New York City :

12.01pm BST

Hospital doctor: “We didn’t anticipate that the roof would blow off”

The true extent of the damage across Florida remains difficult to assess, as many areas remain flooded and in some cases are bracing for the worst yet to come, with a huge storm surge expected.

But we do know that the storm has caused major damage to a key Florida intensive care hospital, HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=14oBmP_0iEuoH9800
Workers install a flood barrier to secure Tampa General Hospital in anticipation of Hurricane Ian in Tampa, Florida on 27 September 2022. Photograph: Cristóbal Herrera/EPA

The surge flooded its lower level emergency room, and tropical storm winds ripped off part of its fourth floor roof from its intensive care unit (ICU), a doctor told Associated Press.

Dr Birgit Bodine said she stayed at the hospital overnight expecting the night to be busy but “we didn’t anticipate that the roof would blow off on the fourth floor”.

The hole in the roof caused the ICU to flood from above and the hospital’s sickest patients, some on ventilators, were evacuated to other floors. The storm made two of the hospital’s four floors uninhabitable. Bodine said she feared for capacity issues today if the storm caused extensive harm to Florida residents.

“The ambulances may be coming soon and we don’t know where to put them in the hospital at this point,” she said. “Because we’re doubled and tripled up.”

Updated at 12.25pm BST

11.41am BST

Good morning, it’s Chris Michael covering the landfall of Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the US mainland.

Around 2.5 million Florida residents are without power as the monster storm at one point strengthened to just shy of maximum category 5 status, pushing out winds of 155mph at its center.

The storm has trapped people in flooded homes, damaged a hospital intensive care unit and is leaving a wake of destruction as it heads across Florida toward the Atlantic Coast. Nearly the entire state has been hit, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 415 miles (665 km).

The National Hurricane Center said Ian had been downgraded to a tropical storm over land early Thursday, but was expected to regain near-hurricane strength after emerging over Atlantic waters near the Kennedy Space Center later in the day.

Much of the Gulf Coast remained inundated by ocean water, with storm surge inundation of 8 to 10 feet above ground level from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor, according to the center.

The hurricane previously killed several people in Cuba and knocked out power to the entire island .

A predicted storm surge of up to 18ft is liable to cause substantial flooding. The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, said it’s too late for residents who haven’t already fled to do so now. “It’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” he said.

We’ll bring you all the developments as they happen. Meanwhile, please read our news story here:

Related: Hurricane Ian: more than 2m without power as Florida hit with ‘catastrophic’ wind and rain

Updated at 11.48am BST

Comments / 154

Park Ave
09-29

The name is called KARMA! Karma can be very vicious and vindictive. DesStupid thought it was funny what he did to those migrants he sent to Martha's Vineyard. My, My, My, KARMA came a calling.

Reply(13)
17
Keith Alexander
09-29

this is wat happens wen u believe in MAN NOT GOD. FOR U DESANTIS CULT FOLLOWERS LETS watch u beg the BIDEN ADMINISTRATION NOW

Reply(5)
20
MAGA@ENEMY OF STATE!
09-29

It’s a good thing Biden won’t treat Florida the same way DerSantis treated Disney because he didn’t agree with their views!

Reply(9)
11

Comments / 0