Hurricane Ian barrels toward South Carolina after killing several and leaving millions without power across Florida




CNN

As Florida grapples with the devastating damage left by Hurricane Ian, which officials say could be the worst natural disaster in the state’s history, South Carolina residents are bracing for the storm’s expected arrival Friday afternoon.

Hurricane Ian has re-strengthened in the Atlantic, after killing at least 19 in Florida and leaving millions without power, packing winds nearing 85 mph on its way to the coast of South Carolina, expected to move west of Myrtle Beach. A hurricane warning has been issued from the Savannah River on the Georgia-South Carolina border to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The storm’s devastating sweep across Florida brought flooding and storm surges, prompting the largest emergency response in the state’s history, state fire marshal Jimmy Patronis told CNN on Thursday. Hundreds are being rescued by land, air and sea, with residents trapped in their homes or on their roofs. Some homes in Fort Myers Beach have been reduced to concrete slabs, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, calling the damage in parts of the state “indescribable.”

The hurricane hit Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 140 mph, causing extensive damage to homes, vehicles and businesses. And the officials have warned that it will be a long road to recovery.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Dozens of deaths reported: At least 19 storm-related deaths have been reported in Florida so far, with that number likely to rise. The majority of those killed are in Lee and Charlotte counties. President Joe Biden said Thursday that Ian could be “the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.”
  • More than 2.2 million without power: Millions of Floridians in Ian’s path remain in the dark as of Friday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. Most of the counties with the highest percentage of residents without power are in the Southwest, including Lee, Charlotte, Hardee and Sarasota. Thirteen counties report that more than 50% of their tracked customers are without power.
  • Historic floods in some areas: Record flooding was recorded in central and northern Florida, with at least three rivers reaching flood records. Officials in Orlando warned residents of dangerous flooding, which topped a foot in some areas. Some stagnant water was said to be electrified.
  • Hundreds of rescues and thousands of evacuations: There have been more than 700 rescues across the state so far, the governor said Thursday, and thousands have been reported evacuated. In Lee County, a hospital system had to evacuate more than 1,000 patients after the water supply was cut off, and there have been other widespread evacuations at prisons and nursing homes.
  • Coastal islands completely isolated from the mainland: The islands of Sanibel and Captiva in southwest Florida are completely cut off from the mainland after parts of the critical causeway were ripped out. At least two people died in the Sanibel storm and the bike path may have to be completely rebuilt, local officials said. Chip Farrar, a resident of the small island of Matlacha, told CNN that the 50-foot road necessary to reach the mainland bridge had been washed away and that a second nearby bridge had also collapsed.

As Hurricane Ian moves away from Florida, the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia have declared states of emergency.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster pleaded with residents not to underestimate the storm’s danger and urged them to closely monitor storm warnings to prepare for Friday’s impact. It is expected to make landfall at high tide, which could significantly worsen flooding in low-lying areas, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.

When all is said and done, Ian’s storm system will likely leave lasting changes.

The coasts of Georgia and South Carolina could experience significant changes as strong waves and storm surges brought by Ian could inundate coastal sand dunes, according to the US Geological Survey. In addition to flooding communities behind the dunes, the USGS said, storms can push sand back and inland, which can “reduce the height of sand barriers, change beach profiles, and make areas behind the dunes more vulnerable to future storms.”