President Joe Biden is to travel to Florida and Puerto Rico this week to survey damage after vowing to commit the full strength of the federal government to recovery efforts in the wake of two devastating hurricanes.
The level of destruction from Hurricane Ian, which has killed nearly four dozen people and which Mr Biden said was “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” has left bridges and other infrastructure, along with homes and businesses in ruins, with damage estimates ranging from $68 billion to $100bn.
Ian made landfall on Wednesday and tore across Florida, bringing with it powerful gales and a wall of water that inundated parts of the state. It pummelled South Carolina on Friday with violent winds and a deadly storm surge on its way up the east coast. Mr Biden is set to visit Florida on Wednesday.
He first will travel on Monday to Puerto Rico, a US territory that continues to recover from the damage left by Hurricane Fiona, which caused catastrophic flooding and knocked out much of the power on the island last month.
Hurricane Ian caused the most catastrophic damage in Florida, where days after the storm rescuers were still working to help survivors on Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida's Gulf Coast, which was cut off from the mainland when Ian destroyed a connecting bridge.
Some flew out by helicopter, and people described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the water kept rising.
“The water just kept pounding the house and we watched, boats, houses — we watched everything just go flying by,” Joe Conforti told Reuters, fighting back tears.
He said if it wasn’t for his wife, who suggested they get up on a table to avoid the rising water, he wouldn’t have made it: “I started to lose sensibility, because when the water’s at your door and it’s splashing on the door and you’re seeing how fast it’s moving, there’s no way you’re going to survive that.”
Hundreds of thousands of people were still sweltering without power days after the monster storm rampaged from the state’s southwestern coast up to the Carolinas.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Saturday that multibillionaire businessman Elon Musk was providing about 120 Starlink satellites to “help bridge some of the communication issues.” Starlink, a satellite-based internet system created by Mr Musk’s SpaceX, will provide high-speed connectivity.
Florida utilities were working to restore power. As of Sunday morning, nearly 850,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity, down from a peak of 2.67 million.
At least 54 people were confirmed dead: 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba. The weakened storm had drifted north on Sunday and was expected to dump rain on parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, according to the National Hurricane Centre, which has warned of the potential for flash flooding.
In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a strong storm surge coupled with a 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 onto the beach and left debris strewn 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.
Agencies contributed to this report.