Hurricane Ian leaves dozens dead as focus turns to aftermath

Authorities have rescued more than 1,000 people along Florida's south-western coast alone

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With a death toll nearing three dozen, rescuers searched on Saturday for survivors among the Florida homes ruined by Hurricane Ian.

Meanwhile, authorities and residents in South Carolina began surveying their losses and assessing the damage from the powerful storm’s strike there.

Ian, one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the US, terrorised millions for most of the week, battering western Cuba before raking across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and then mustering an assault on the Carolinas, as depicted in the gallery below.

The storm weakened on Saturday before going into the mid-Atlantic.

At least 34 people were confirmed dead, including 27 people in Florida mostly from drowning but others from the storm’s after effects.

An elderly couple died after their oxygen machines shut off when they lost power, authorities said. Four more deaths were reported in North Carolina and three earlier in Cuba.

As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas along Florida’s south-western coast alone, Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and head of the National Guard, told the Associated Press.

Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday, waiting to see whether her 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island.

A pontoon boat had just arrived with a load of passengers from the island — with suitcases and animals in tow — but Ms Schnapp’s mother-in-law was not among them.

“She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law own two businesses over there. They evacuated. She did not want to go, thinking it wasn’t going to be bad,” Ms Schnapp said.

Now, she said, she was not sure if her mother-in-law was still on the island or had been taken to a shelter.

River flooding added a major challenge to rescue and supply delivery efforts. The Myakka River washed over a stretch of Interstate 75, forcing a traffic-snarling motorway closure Saturday on the corridor linking Tampa to the north with the hard-hit south-west Florida region that straddles Port Charlotte and Fort Myers.

While rising waters in Florida’s south-west rivers have crested or are near cresting, the levels are not expected to drop significantly for several days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming in Tampa.

The Myakka River, he said, is “going to be at major flood level way into the week”.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a strong storm surge coupled with high tide inundated the community causing thousands in the area to lose power for up to eight hours.

The swells caused by Ian washed a shrimp boat on to the beach and left debris strew about the city’s streets.

Ian damaged at least four piers along South Carolina’s northern coast, a tourist destination for American and international travellers.

Forty kilometres south of Myrtle Beach, the storm wreaked havoc on Pawley’s Island causing up to 1.2 metres of flooding and damaging docks and the local pier.

Eddie Wilder, who has been visiting Pawleys Island for more than six decades, said Friday’s storm was “insane to watch.” He said waves as high as 7.6 metres washed away the pier — a landmark — two doors down from his home.

Many of the elevated beach homes still had feet of sand underneath, with dunes completely washed over and nearly flattened.

A shrimp boat is dumped on the shore at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after Hurricane Ian blasted through the southern US state. Willy Lowry / The National

John Joseph, whose father built the family’s beige beach house in 1962, said on Saturday he was elated to return from Georgetown — which took a direct hit — to find his Pawleys Island home intact.

“Thank God these walls are still here, and we feel very blessed that this is the worst thing,” he said of the sand swept under his home. “What happened in Florida — gosh, God bless us. If we’d had a Category 4, I wouldn’t be here.”

In North Carolina, the storm claimed at least four lives and appeared to have mainly downed trees and power lines, leaving more than 280,000 people across the state without power on Saturday morning, officials said.

Separate vehicle crashes claimed two lives in the storm, the North Carolina officials said, a man drowned when his lorry plunged into a swamp, and another man died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in a closed garage.

Ian decimates Gulf Coast

The storm’s winds were much weaker on Friday than during Ian’s landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier. Authorities and volunteers there were still assessing the damage as shocked residents tried to make sense of the disaster.

“I want to sit in the corner and cry. I don’t know what else to do,” Stevie Scuderi said after shuffling through the ruins of her Fort Myers flat, mud clinging to her purple sandals.

On Saturday, a long line of people waited outside an O’Reilly’s auto parts store in Port Charlotte, where a sign read, “We have generators now.” Hundreds of cars were lined up outside a Wawa gas station, and some people walked, carrying gas cans to their nearby cars.

Wood work on clearing a tree from a road in Fort Myers, Florida, which was very badly hit by Ian. AFP

At Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers, charter boat captain Ryan Kane was assessing damage to two boats Saturday, after the storm surge pushed several boats and a dock on to shore.

He said the boat he owns was wrecked. He said he could not use it to help rescue people, and it would be a long time before he would be chartering fishing clients.

“There’s a hole in the hull. It took water in the motors. It took water in everything,” he said, adding: “You know boats are supposed to be in the water, not in parking lots.”

Updated: October 02, 2022, 4:25 AM