Florida Rescue Efforts Underway; Lee County Sheriff Says Fatalities Could Be in the Hundreds


Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane. On Thursday morning, it was downgraded to a tropical storm and search and rescue operations began. Some are estimating that there could be hundreds of deaths from the hurricane.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told “Good Morning America” on Thursday that fatalities from the hurricane could be in the hundreds, WEAR-TV reported.

Lee County is on the Gulf Side of Florida and is where Fort Myers is located. It was the region that was hit hardest by Hurricane Ian, Yale Climate Connections reported.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also held a press conference on Thursday morning and said that the reports are unconfirmed and Marceno’s numbers were just estimates. He emphasized that the work of rescuing those stranded is underway.

“None of that is confirmed. I think, what that is, is there were 911 calls for people saying, ‘Hey, the water is rising in my home. I’m going to go up in the attic, but I’m really worried.’ Of course those folks are now going to be checked on, and so I think you’ll have more clarity about that in the next day or so as they’re able to go to those locations and determine whether people need services or are able to be rescued,” DeSantis said.

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“My sense is that water was very, very high. But my hope is that if folks did go higher if they were there — it’s not comfortable — but now we’re in a situation, I mean, if you’re there, they want to come get you. And so hopefully we’ll be able to see a lot of those people brought to safety. I can tell you, in the barrier islands, there have been a number of people helicoptered to safety. …That number that was put out by Lee is basically an estimate of ‘Hey, these people were calling, the water was rising on their home, they may not have ended up getting through.’ We’re obviously hoping that they can be rescued at this point,” DeSantis added.

When Hurricane Ian hit the state on Wednesday, winds reached 150 miles per hour and were accompanied by “life-threatening storm surge,” NBC News reported.

Is the response to Hurricane Ian being handled well?

As of Thursday morning, 2.5 million people in Florida were without power, NBC reported.

But as search and rescue begins, Marceno assured residents that his department is ready to assist.

“Our Mobile Command Center is ready to respond and assist with search and rescue along with our other assets. We are here for our community!” the Lee County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook.

The sheriff’s office also posted a phone number for people to call for welfare checks and said to call 911 only for emergencies.

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“We know it can be difficult to contact family and loved ones following Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Southwest Florida. Many residents are currently without power and unable to communicate. As long as the area is accessible, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office can dispatch deputies to check on residents and ensure they are safe,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook. “To request a wellbeing check, call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 239-477-1000.”

Authorities also warned residents that traffic lights are out, debris is on the roads and power lines are down, The News-Press reported.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden declared that “a major disaster exists” in Florida and has ordered federal aid to assist in the areas affected, the White House reported.

Biden “ordered Federal aid to supplement State, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by Hurricane Ian beginning on September 23, 2022, and continuing,” the briefing outlined.

“The president’s action makes Federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota,” the White House briefing added.

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