The death toll from Hurricane Ian rose to 54 and power remained out to more than 860,000 homes and businesses across Florida on Sunday, four days after the Category 4 beast slammed ashore along the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast.
Confirmed fatalities included 47 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba, where Ian made its first landfall Tuesday. More than 1,000 people have been rescued along Florida’s southwestern coast alone, said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard. Search and rescue efforts were continuing in some isolated areas.
The bridge to Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was destroyed by the storm. Some residents were evacuated by helicopter.
“The water just kept pounding the house and we watched, boats, houses – we watched everything just go flying by,” said Joe Conforti. “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.”
Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest power company, said it had restored power to more than 1.5 million customers including all hospitals in its service area. More than 20,000 workers were involved in the restoration effort.
“Even given the unprecedented devastation caused by the storm, I can now confidently say that our restoration will be completed in a matter of days, not weeks,” company CEO Eric Silagy said.
The weakened storm was meander up the East Coast on Sunday, continuing to bring rain as far north as Washington, D.C.
SHATTERED HOPES:Ian, Fiona wake up a quiet hurricane season. What’s next?
Gov. Ron DeSantis continued Saturday to defend the timing of evacuation orders by Southwest Florida officials amid lingering questions about whether they came too late for many residents. DeSantis recounted the shifting path of Hurricane Ian, which was seen as likely targeting Tampa Bay shortly before an eastward turn brought it further south along the Gulf Coast. Lee County emergency managers who ordered evacuations Tuesday morning, a day before the deadly storm made landfall in the county with what DeSantis described as “biblical storm surge.”
“They were following the data,” DeSantis said. “When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay.”
– John Kennedy, USA TODAY Network Florida
►BEFORE AND AFTER:A look at Ian’s damage.
► ‘IT’S LIKE A WAR ZONE’: Residents start to rebuild.
IAN DEATH TOLL RISES:More than 1,000 rescued in Florida: Updates
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Florida this week, according to the White House, to see firsthand the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms to strike the nation, and the recovery being carried out by tens of thousands of local, state and federal workers and volunteers.
The Bidens will travel to Puerto Rico on Monday and then head to Florida on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted Saturday night. Hurricane Fiona slammed Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 18.
“It’s not just a crisis for Florida,” said Biden Friday from the White House. “This is an American crisis. We’re all in this together.”
– Sergio Bustos, USA TODAY Network Florida
Contributing: The Associated Press
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