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Hurricane Ian steams toward Carolinas after battering Florida

Hurricane Ian steams toward Carolinas after battering Florida

A flooded street is seen in downtown as Hurricane Ian makes landfall in southwestern Florida, in Fort Myers, Florida, U.S. September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello

VENICE, Florida: Emergency crews raced on Thursday (Sep 29) to reach stranded Florida residents as Hurricane Ian trained its sights on the Carolinas after cutting a coast-to-coast path of destruction across Florida, leaving behind deadly floodwaters, downed power lines and widespread damage.

Ian, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the US mainland, flooded Gulf Coast communities and knocked out power to millions before ploughing across the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean, where it regained strength ahead of another anticipated landfall in South Carolina on Friday.

Florida's death toll remained uncertain amid scattered reports of casualties.

President Joe Biden, speaking at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, said Ian could prove to be the deadliest in state history.

"The numbers are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life," Biden said.

In hard-hit Charlotte County, a spokesperson for the sheriff's department confirmed multiple deaths but did not have a firm figure. Authorities in Sarasota County were investigating two possible storm-related deaths, a sheriff's spokesperson said.

A 72-year-old man in Deltona in central Florida died after he went outside during the storm to drain his pool, authorities said.

More than 2.6 million homes and businesses in Florida remained without power. Governor Ron DeSantis said that Lee and Charlotte counties, home to more than 900,000 people, were "basically off the grid".

South and North Carolina were bracing for impact, as Ian - which had weakened to a tropical storm during its trek across Florida - returned to hurricane strength by 5pm ET with maximum sustained wind speeds of 120kmh.

The storm was churning off Florida's eastern coast, about 540km south of Charleston, South Carolina, according to the US National Hurricane Center. A hurricane warning was in effect for approximately 370km of coastline from the South Carolina-Georgia border north to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

A flooded street is seen in downtown as Hurricane Ian makes landfall in southwestern Florida, in Fort Myers, Florida, U.S. September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello

In South Carolina, Mercedes Benz, Boeing Co, and the seaports that support manufacturers will suspend operations on Friday.

Ian blasted ashore at the barrier island of Cayo Costa on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 241kmh.

The storm transformed Florida's southwestern shoreline, dotted with sandy beaches, coastal towns and mobile home parks, into a disaster zone as Ian swept seawater into waterfront homes.

"Sanibel Island is destruction ... it got hit with really biblical storm surge. It washed away roads. It washed away structures," DeSantis said during a news briefing as he described the damage sustained by the popular vacation destination.

He said earlier that 28 helicopters were performing water rescues and that the bridge to the island was impassable.

SEARCHING FOR SURVIVORS

By midday on Thursday, residents in hard-hit areas like Venice, located in Sarasota County about 120km south of Tampa, hunted for family and friends while rescue crews worked to reach people trapped in flooded homes.

Kurt Hoffman, sheriff of Sarasota County, told residents in a Twitter post that there were more than 500 calls for help.

"Sit tight, we know many of you need help," Hoffman wrote.

The search for loved ones was made more difficult as cellphone services were often cut.

"A lot of down trees, a lot of flooding everywhere. We are trying to get a hold of my daughter," said Terri Byrd, as she tried to get cell service in a Walmart parking lot after spending the night at a Venice elementary school.

A man walks among fallen palm leaves and debris in a street in downtown as Hurricane Ian makes landfall in southwestern Florida, in Fort Myers, Florida, on Sep 28, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Marco Bello)

In Punta Gorda, a town directly in the hurricane's path, trees, debris and power lines covered roadways, though many buildings remained standing, having withstood the storm's onslaught better than many had feared.

"It was insane," local landscaper Jeffrey Chambers, 53, said, describing sideways rain that erased all visibility. "I was like 'Please stop already, just stop.' And it kept going and going."

Brenda Siettas, 62, a paraprofessional who works with students, was in the city in 2004 when Hurricane Charley blasted much of her neighbourhood away. Buildings constructed since then are more able to survive high winds, she said.

"They definitely built back much better since Charley," she said. "Back then I stayed here for two weeks: no power, no water, no sewer."

Biden spoke to DeSantis on Thursday, saying his administration was committed to close coordination and that Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell will be in Florida on Friday. Biden said that he will travel to the state when conditions allow.

Biden also approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to the counties impacted by the storm.

Source: Reuters/vc/ec
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