As the death toll from Hurricane Ian continues to rise, people in Florida are still trying to grapple with the destruction the monstrous storm has caused. Hundreds of thousands remained without power on Monday, homes and roads were still flooded, and barrier islands were isolated from the mainland.
New photos and videos emerging from the epicenter of where Hurricane Ian made landfall show the sheer power the storm packed. Homes are barely recognizable on Captiva Island, a barrier island in Lee County right near where Ian made its first United States landfall as a Category 4 storm.
Footage captured by storm chaser Brandon Clement shows debris, fallen trees and power lines scattered around the island. Inside homes, watermark stains tell a harrowing tale about just how high the storm surge rose. Furniture can be seen scattered about, and the floors were covered in a mixture of sand and mud.
Despite nearly a week has passed since Hurricane Ian brought torrential rainfall and catastrophic storm surge to Florida, river levels continued to rise Monday, and homes and streets in many places were still inundated.
“The sandy soil in Florida can absorb light to moderate amounts of rain rather quickly, but when you get rainfall of 1-2 feet, even that can be overwhelmed,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski explained. “It can take a long time for that to drain off.”
Officials warn the floodwaters will make for a dangerous situation as rescue and recovery efforts continue. “We see so many more injuries and sometimes more fatalities after the storm,” Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Fox News Sunday, The Associated Press reported. “Standing water brings with it all kinds of hazards — it has debris, it could have power lines.”
Pinpointing the death toll has been no easy task for officials and the media. As of Monday morning, at least 68 fatalities blamed on Ian have been confirmed, the AP reported. At least 61 of those deaths occurred in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba, where Ian struck before hitting the U.S. Some reports put Ian’s death toll at 80 or more.
Most of the deaths from the hurricane were a result of drowning, but some have been blamed on harsh consequences in the aftermath of the storm, such as an elderly couple who died after power to their oxygen machines shut off.
Officials said thousands of people had been rescued in the days since the storm left its vicious mark. The federal response to the ongoing search-and-rescue process could be one of the biggest ever. “We pre-positioned the largest amount of search-and-rescue assets that I think we’ve ever put in place before,” Criswell said during her appearance on Fox News Sunday.
The White House said on Saturday that President Joe Biden will be visiting Puerto Rico Monday, as the island is still recovering from Hurricane Fiona’s powerful strike two weeks ago. The president is then expected to travel to Florida Wednesday to visit areas that were ravaged by Ian.
Lee County officials have come under scrutiny about whether they provided residents with ample warning to evacuate. According to the Orlando Sentinel, officials along much of the coastline ordered residents to evacuate Monday, but Lee County officials “pondered” the decision, waiting to see how the forecast evolved overnight. By Tuesday, Lee County officials issued the evacuation notice.
According to Lee County’s evacuation strategy plan, the delay is an apparent violation and may have contributed to fatal consequences as the death toll continues to rise, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Over the weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s early preparations for Hurricane Ian as questions arose on whether or not hard-hit areas, like Lee County, received enough advance warning to evacuate, Politico reported.
“When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay — worst case scenario for the state,” DeSantis told reporters as he defended the Lee County officials who issued the evacuation notice on Tuesday instead of Monday. Lee County includes Sanibel Island, Pine Island, Fort Myers Beach and Fort Myers — some of the worst-hit places.
Imagery from Clement revealed that many houses on barrier islands in Lee County did not stand a chance from the powerful winds and storm surge Ian delivered. A blue house, along with a few other homes on Captiva Island, remained standing as surrounding buildings were brought down to their foundation. Debris could be seen scattered in all directions.
The sudden surge of water during the storm’s landfall forced many residents who didn’t evacuate to seek shelter on roofs or in attics. Fort Myers residents described the water pushing through their doors and walls.
“Within 30 minutes it was up to my door and within an hour it was pushing through my door,” Jeannel Thyl, a Fort Myers resident, told AFP.
Before and after satellite imagery from Maxar showed just how devastating the hurricane was to the state. Neighborhoods have disappeared and coastlines were left changed. Flooded roadways and crumbled bridges left many people stranded with limited cellphone coverage and no water, electricity or internet.
DeSantis said at a press conference on Sunday that construction of a temporary passageway for Pine Island will begin this week, the AP reported. “It’s not going to be a full bridge,” the governor said. “You’re going to have to go over it probably at 5 miles an hour or something, but it’ll at least let people get in and off the island with their vehicles.”
Florida officials said on Monday that some schools in the southwestern part of the state could open as soon as this week, once power and water are restored. However, it could be much longer before schools in the hardest-hit locations to welcome students back.
As of Monday, just under 600,000 customers were still without power in Florida, according to PowerOutage.US.
“It’s horrible. As they say, it’s like a war zone. Everything that you used to know is gone,” Alice Barrett, a Fort Myers Beach resident, told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. “I mean, there’s very few buildings that are standing. It’s hard to imagine. From this beautiful place that you love — to it’s all gone. It’s just hard.”
The shocking scenes of destruction hint at how sweeping and long-lasting the impact across Florida will be felt. The economic fallout caused by the storm will be immense, AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers said — on par with some of the worst hurricane damage in U.S. history. According to Myers, the total losses caused by Hurricane Ian will amount to between $180 billion and $210 billion in the U.S.
“Ian will go down as one of the most damaging and impactful storms in U.S. history, along with 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which caused $190 billion in total damage and economic loss,” Myers said.
“The economic impact of this storm should not be underestimated,” Myers added. “At $200 billion, that amounts to 1 percent of our national GDP, which is a significant hit on the economy and the entire country and could even be the difference between growth and recession, causing the Federal Reserve to keep from raising interest rates further for the remainder of the year.”
When Ian made landfall last Wednesday in southwestern Florida, it unleashed relentless wind gusts across the peninsula. The highest official reported wind gust was 128 mph, recorded by a WeatherFlow station in Grove City. However, locally higher wind speeds that weren’t officially observed may have also occurred.
Rainfall across the state was staggering, too. In just 24 hours, automated rain gauges reported as much as 31.52 inches of rain near Ponce Inlet. Rainfall totals combined with the ferocious storm surge wreaked havoc on barrier islands and areas close to the coast.
Produced in association with AccuWeather.
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